Zinc: Can It Stop Your Heartburn?

A recent Yale University study showed that zinc salts could relieve the painful and sometimes debilitating symptoms of heartburn. The study also showed that zinc salts can relieve pain without the side effects of common traditional medications used to treat this condition.

Researchers from the American Journal of Gastroenterology reported that individuals who took zinc salts got fast relief—sometimes  in just minutes—versus  more than a day for some oral medications. Individuals who took zinc did not report any side effects that usually occur with other medications such as headaches, diarrhea, and dizziness.

“Our study showed that, at the cellular level, zinc is a direct suppressor of gastric acid secretion,” said lead author John Geibel, M.D., D.Sc., Professor of Surgery and Cellular and Molecular Physiology and Vice Chair of Surgery at Yale School of Medicine. “This opens a promising new avenue of treatment for suffering patients, especially the many who continue to have symptoms of acid-related illness even after a standard dose of PPIs (protein pump inhibitors).”

But it’s way too soon to even start thinking of dosing yourself with zinc, experts say. For one thing, the Yale study was very small.

“It was 12 people and it was not very well controlled,” says David Bernstein, MD AGAF, FACP, FACG, Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at The North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, New York. “Zinc has not been studied appropriately and I don’t think that in any which way, zinc would be considered a standard of treatment.”

Lisa Ganjhu, MD, D.O., a gastroenterologist at Saint Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, adds that too much zinc could cause an upset stomach. “Zinc is considered a supplement,” she says. “We give it to certain people with Crohn’s disease or other inflammatory illnesses to help with healing. But it is important that you don’t take more than you need.”

So if zinc is not the magic pill to soothe heartburn, what can alleviate these painful symptoms? “Modified diet and lifestyle modifications,” Bernstein says. “People who are overweight need to lose weight, since being overweight leads to increased reflux.”

Other ways to find relief include getting more exercise, eating smaller meals, and avoiding trigger foods like coffee and chocolate. Also on the no-no list: Spicy foods, acidic foods, and fried foods.

For the almost 50 million Americans who have some form of heartburn, CBS News Medical Correspondent Jennifer Ashton has some advice:

Don’t ignore heartburn. It can potentially lead to serious, even precancerous or cancerous changes in the esophagus," Her recommendation? “If you are suffering from heartburn more than twice a week, [and] over-the-counter [medicines and] lifestyle [changes] are not working, you really want to see a doctor. Maybe in the future, something as simple as zinc might give you some relief.”




Yale Office of Public Affairs & Communications. 24 August 2010. “Yale Study Shows Zinc Salts Offer Rapid Relief from Gastric Reflux.”

Rapid relief for heartburn sufferers? CBS News 25 August 2010