Heartburn is hardly a new phenomenon. Humans have probably had to contend with indigestion for as long as the species has existed. Still, it often seems as though 21st century Americans suffer more often than people in the past. And although we have strong medications to prevent acid production, these proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can trigger numerous worrisome reactions. As a result, when someone discovers that cough lozenges are a simple way to ease this troublesome symptom, they get excited. Why do they work?

Special Cough Lozenges Help Heartburn:

Q. My 30-year-old son was diagnosed with GERD. He really struggled with PPIs, but when he stopped taking the drug his doctor prescribed he had rebound reflux.

He has inadvertently found that Fisherman’s Friend cough drops work very well to relieve indigestion. The main ingredient is menthol. He sucks on several FF a day. Will that cause him problems?

Saliva to Cool the Fire in the Belly:

A. Fisherman’s Friend (Original Extra Strong) cough lozenges contain hot pepper (capsicum), eucalyptus oil and licorice in addition to menthol. These strong flavors stimulate saliva production.

Back in 1984, we read in The New England Journal of Medicine that “residual acid [in the esophagus] is neutralized by swallowed saliva” (Feb. 2, 1984).  That might explain why your son is finding this product helpful for his reflux.

Licorice in Cough Lozenges Could Raise Blood Pressure:

The one caution we have is that he should monitor his blood pressure. We don’t know how much licorice he is getting in these cough drops. Too much of this herb can cause fluid retention and raise blood pressure.

However, the licorice might also be contributing to heartburn relief. A licorice-containing chewing gum called GutsyGum apparently eases symptoms of acid reflux (Brown et al, Journal of Dietary Supplements, June 2015). Doctors once prescribed licorice to heal stomach ulcers. As late as 1985, a licorice formulation (Caved-S) was about as effective as cimetidine (Tagamet) in preventing ulcer recurrence (Morgan, Pacsoo & McAdam, Gut, June 1985). Chinese scientists recently clarified exactly how licorice helps heal gastric ulcers (Wang et al, Pharmacognosy Magazine, Apr-Jun. 2017).

Learn More:

For other ideas on controlling heartburn without PPI medications, you may want to consult our Guide to Digestive Disorders. To learn more about the activity of licorice, menthol or hot pepper, you may wish to consider reading our book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.

Related People's Pharmacy Health Guide

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