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Milk and Crackers for Heartburn? A gastroenterologist weighs in.

by Patricia L. Raymond, M.D., FACP, FACG




Q. I am a longtime sufferer of heartburn and have tried every suggestion I have ever received. Well, nothing worked, except I found something on my own. I drink a small glass of milk and eat plain crackers (about four) with it. For some reason, it works, and I have shared it with others, and they said it worked for them too!
— Beth, Virginia


A. Not so surprising to me. The typical saltine has just a few ingredients, one of them being baking soda. So you’re taking a small dose of this popular home remedy.

However, you really don’t want to do this too often. There’s a fair amount of sodium in your crackers, both from the sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and the sodium chloride (salt on top).

For most people, a dose of acid-neutralizing baking soda every once in a while is OK, but watch out if you take it frequently, you’re on a low-sodium diet or you’re taking other medications (some don’t work well with baking soda).

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So far as the milk is concerned, I assume you’re drinking it in either low-fat or skim form. Fat takes a while to digest, giving stomach contents more time to reflux. Plus, some studies have suggested that fat may also relax the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle at the bottom end of the esophagus that closes and prevents reflux). Alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, smoking and peppermint may have the same effect.

Whatever you do to treat your heartburn in the meantime, don’t neglect to give your health-care provider a crack at it. Longstanding reflux can lead to strictures (scarring and narrowing) of the esophagus and esophageal cancer. Your health-care provider can help you learn which foods to avoid and, if necessary, which medications can help.

Board-certified gastroenterologist
PATRICIA L. RAYMOND, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.G., is a board-certified gastroenterologist with Simply Screening in Chesapeake, Va.; author of Colonoscopy: It’ll Crack U Up!; and assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

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Last updated and/or approved: July 2011.
Original article appeared in summer 2007 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
Comments (2)add comment
written by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. , June 30, 2008

Thanks for the comment Rachel. You never can tell. The info might come in handy for you some day.
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written by Rachel , June 30, 2008

Thanks for the info. Don't suffer from heartburn too much but at least I'll know what to do.
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