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Do You Swallow a Spoonful of Mustard for Heartburn?

Strange but true: Taking a spoonful of mustard can often alleviate heartburn symptoms. This remedy also appears to be effective for muscle cramps.
Do You Swallow a Spoonful of Mustard for Heartburn?
A bottle of yellow mustard with white background

Do you suffer from heartburn? Many people do, judging from the popularity of acid-suppressing drugs such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) or omeprazole (Prilosec). Antacids like Maalox or Tums also sell briskly. But readers have found a lot of non-drug alternatives that can ease the burn. Some swear by pre-emptively munching a small handful of almonds at the end of a meal. Others are enthusiastic about swallowing a spoonful of mustard when heartburn strikes.

A Spoonful of Mustard to Stop Heartburn:

Q. You have written about using table mustard for muscle cramps, but you should discuss its applicability for alleviating acid reflux. I was taking Zantac for occasional reflux when a friend mentioned swallowing a tablespoon of common yellow hot-dog mustard as a palliative.

When I tried it, I was astonished at how soon the reflux subsided in response, far quicker than Zantac takes effect. Now I keep a fast-food packet of mustard in the car for emergency treatment. (I also keep Zantac in the medicine cabinet as a backup.)

A. Look below for more information about mustard for muscle cramps. We are not aware of any scientific studies explaining mustard as a remedy for  reflux, but scores of readers have testified that swallowing a spoonful of mustard works to alleviate heartburn. We don’t know if the “active ingredient” is the vinegar in mustard or the turmeric that provides its bright yellow color.

Could Curcumin Be the Magic in a Spoonful of Mustard?

Curcumin is the source of turmeric’s color. The compound has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in the digestive tract (Current Gastroenterology Reports, April 2016).

Research conducted on laboratory rats showed that curcumin could ease esophageal ulcers under specific conditions (Journal of Natural Medicines, July 2006).  We don’t know if that might be the reason a spoonful of mustard seems to help heartburn symptoms.

A Spoonful of Mustard Makes Leg Cramps Go Away:

Q. I read your article about home remedies for leg cramps. I am 75 years of age and had suffered with severe leg cramps from the time I was a teenager until about eight years ago.

A Spoonful of Mustard:

Then I read an article about using common household mustard to treat the problem. One night my feet were cramping so bad they almost curled double and I could not straighten them out.

I struggled to get to the kitchen where I consumed one teaspoon full of mustard. To my amazement the cramps completely disappeared within two minutes. This cure works every time I get cramps, sometimes within thirty seconds.

Cramps usually strike at night after extreme sweating and physical exertion. Also, my feet cramp so badly in cold water that I cannot swim.

Is It the Turmeric?

Mustard is my cure. I think I read somewhere that mustard contains turmeric and that might explain the benefit.

A. We are glad to hear that swallowing a teaspoon of yellow mustard eases your leg cramps so quickly. You are not the only reader to report this.

We too suspect that turmeric might be behind mustard’s power against cramps. That is the spice that makes mustard yellow. A study showed that mustard can ease cramps without changing electrolyte balance, so the effect can’t be attributed to the salt in mustard (Journal of Athletic Training, May-June 2014).

Mustard also contains vinegar, and vinegar can alleviate these muscle spasms, as a diabolical study demonstrated (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, May, 2010). The subjects were college athletes who rode stationery bikes to exhaustion, then had an electrical current applied to the big toe to cause a cramp. At least the scientists deliberately chose a smaller muscle rather than one as large as the calf or thigh muscle.

We have written about many home remedies for leg cramps, including the infamous soap in bed, in our Guide to Leg Pain.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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