The fact that pickle juice is delicious is totally nondebatable. (IT’S SO GOOD.) But will pickle juice help ease your heartburn? Hmmm, no.
While some may swear by pickle juice as an at-home remedy for acid reflux, the truth is that it probably won’t do anything. Actually, it might even make your heartburn more unbearable.
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid is regurgitated from the stomach back into your esophagus. (Mmm.) It’s a symptom of acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
It typically causes an uncomfortable and painful burning sensation in your chest just behind your breastbone. It may get worse after you eat or drink or when you lay down flat on your back or stomach.
So why would anyone think pickle juice helps? The connection isn’t completely random. Pickle juice is a concentrated source of Lactobacillus, which is a healthy probiotic bacteria found in your gut microbiome… and also on the skin of cucumbers.
Consuming Lactobacillus is thought to boost the good bacteria in your gut. One of the advantages is that it may calm the regurgitation of acid up through the esophagus. However, there’s currently no evidence that pickle juice helps alleviate heartburn.
So do pickles = heartburn cure?
Even with the benefits of Lactobacillus, many commercially prepared pickles have been pasteurized. That means they’ve gone through a heat-based process to kill any potentially harmful bacteria before being sold.
It’s not just bad bacteria that gets killed, though: good bacteria does too, which means that there actually isn’t any active Lactobacillus in the pickle juice you’ll find on the shelves at the store.
Furthermore, the vinegar used to turn cucumbers into pickles is acidic. And research has found that acidic foods may cause heartburn. So when you drink pickle juice to cure your heartburn, it’s very possible that you’re really just making it worse.
Wait, what about fermented pickles?
These guys are made by submerging raw cukes in diluted brine, where naturally occurring bacteria grow over a few weeks, producing lactic acid that kills any bacteria that could cause spoilage and preserves the food. Since the pickles aren’t pasteurized, they can contain good bacteria like our pal Lactobacillus.
Does that mean fermented pickle juice can help with heartburn? Overall, studies have found that fermented foods that contain lactic acid bacteria (like pickles) may help give probiotic benefits to those suffering from gut issues. Still, more research is needed to say for sure.
There’s also the fact that all pickles, including fermented ones, still pack a lot of acid. So they still might make your reflux worse instead of better. (For reals, you might be better off drinking… potato juice.)
Another important FYI: The amount of bacteria in fermented foods can vary significantly depending on how the products were manufactured, as well as conditions and durations of storage. So it’s hard to say for sure if you’re getting enough Lactobacillus to ease the burn.
Bummer it be, but pickle juice isn’t a reliable treatment for heartburn. The good news is that there are lots of other ways to find reflux relief. Try these:
- Avoid lying down for at least 30 minutes after having a meal.
- Keep your head slightly elevated when going to sleep at night so that you’re not lying flat on your back.
- Keep your portions in check. Overeating = indigestion = reflux.
- Wear loose clothes. Tight duds, especially around your waist, can make heartburn worse.
- Limit the amount of carbonated and acidic foods you eat (think tomatoes, citrus fruits, soda).
- Try following a low carb diet. Some small studies have found that eating less carbs may help prevent heartburn.
- Chew gum, which some studies have shown to be an effective way to reduce acid in the esophagus.
- Try an over-the-counter (OTC) antacid, such as Tums or Rolaids.
If at-home measures aren’t cutting it, talk with your doc. Living with heartburn isn’t fun (or good for you), so it’s important to get the problem under control.
Pickle juice isn’t a go-to to help with heartburn, even if you’re talking about juice from fermented pickles. In fact, the acid in the juice might make your reflux worse. You’re better off trying lifestyle changes like adjusting your diet and not lying down after eating.