Will a Glass of Milk Stop Heartburn?

All About Heartburn and Whether This Home Remedy Works

Young man relaxing, drinking milkshake
Young man relaxing, drinking milkshake. Daniel Ingold

Your grandmother might have told you that a glass of warm milk could help with anything from having trouble going to sleep to easing a sour stomach. It's a common bit of folk wisdom, but when it comes to heartburn, milk won't help.

The truth is, drinking that glass of milk could have the opposite effect when it comes to nighttime heartburn. Eating anything too close to bedtime, especially if you overeat, can cause excess production of stomach acid.

This, in turn, can cause heartburn. This article explains more about what causes heartburn, why milk won't help and what else to try.

What Causes Heartburn?

Heartburn is a symptom of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). It affects your lower esophageal sphincter (LES)--a muscle between your stomach and esophagus that opens and closes. When you experience heartburn, the LES opens to allow acid from the stomach to come back up into the esophagus (instead of simply letting food and liquids down the esophagus into the stomach). This can cause a feeling of discomfort, or a more painful, burning sensation in your chest.

Several factors are thought to increase the likelihood of getting GERD. They include:

  • Being overweight or obese. This can increase the pressure on your LES, causing it to weaken.
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine. These things may relax the LES.
  • Being pregnant. Pregnancy hormones may also relax the LES, plus the increased pressure can weaken the LES.
  • Eating lots of fatty, fried foods. These foods can also increase your symptoms of heartburn.
  • Stress. Some people find that symptoms of GERD appear most when they are stressed, although this hasn't been directly linked through research.
  • Having a hiatal hernia. In this condition, part of the stomach pushes up through your diaphragm.

    Short-Term Help; Long-Term Harm

    Many people still swear by the soothing effects of drinking milk before bed. After all, it's cool and mild (feeling and tasting), so it may seem to take away the burning. And while milk does appear to ease the burn of acid reflux initially, there may be a rebound action later when this same milk triggers the production of stomach acid.

    This is especially true of whole-fat milk. In GERD diets, skim milk is typically recommended (not as a cure for heartburn, but as part of a heartburn-friendly meal plan).

    Better Ways to Ease Heartburn

    There are ways, however, of easing nighttime heartburn. Some tips that may help prevent heartburn:

    • Eat a smaller meal at dinner
    • Stay up (and upright) at least two to three hours after eating.
    • Elevate your head while you sleep. This helps relieve pressure on your LES.
    • Sleep on your left side. Studies have shown this helps with digestion. Sleeping on the right side is more likely to cause heartburn.
    • Avoid tight pants. For PJs, too, make sure the waistbands are loose-fitting.

      For more tips on controlling nighttime heartburn, read this article on lessening nighttime heartburn.

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