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Do You Swallow a Spoonful of Mustard for Heartburn? Curcumin vs. PPIs

New research shows that curcumin (from turmeric) is as effective as the PPI omeprazole. Is that why a spoonful of mustard can ease heartburn?

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 study in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine (Sept. 11, 2023) found that the curcumin in turmeric (that makes mustard yellow) might be as good as the PPI omeprazole in combatting heartburn (dyspepsia).

A Spoonful of Mustard to Stop Heartburn:

Q. I listened to your recent radio show on natural approaches to heartburn. Neither you nor Dr. Tieraona Low Dog (your guest) discussed the efficacy of a spoonful of plain yellow mustard to alleviate heartburn. I have used it often with great results. Am I unique? Is it my imagination?

A. We don’t think it is your imagination, since many other readers have reported success using this remedy as well. There is, however, no research we can find to support it. Mustard makers are not likely to spend money on a clinical trial for something you can buy inexpensively in the grocery store.

Another Reader Speaks Up for Mustard:

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.

New research published in the journal BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine (Sept. 11, 2023) shows that a natural product, curcumin, works just as well as omeprazole. The investigators recruited 206 Thai patients with chronic heartburn and randomly assigned them to take omeprazole, curcumin or both. Neither participants nor researchers knew who was taking which therapy.

The volunteers completed questionnaires on the severity of their symptoms at the start of the study, after 28 days and again 28 days after that. All had improved significantly over baseline, and there were no significant differences among the groups.

The authors conclude:

“Curcumin, extracted from turmeric, is a hydrophobic polyphenol with a low molecular weight. This compound exhibits a broad range of biological properties, such as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiproliferative and antimicrobial properties.”

These researchers speculate that TRP (transient receptor potential) channels play an important role in heartburn.

Because curcumin can stimulate these receptors, the authors of this research offer this mechanistic explanation:

“…there is evidence that curcumin can inhibit gastrointestinal nociception and reverse intestinal hypersensitivity through peripheral terminals. With this mechanism of action in mind, it cannot be ruled out that this molecule may be beneficial in the treatment of patients with functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome, which are disorders that remain clinically challenging in the presence of currently available medications and whose patients may benefit from curcumin’s pharmacological properties on TRPV1 as a novel pain modulator.”

In summary:

“Curcumin and omeprazole had comparable efficacy for functional dyspepsia with no obvious synergistic effect.”

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). Personal experimentation has convinced us that yellow mustard is more effective for easing cramps than fancier varieties.

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
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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