Most people have experienced heartburn at some point in their life. A few of us may have it every once in a while, but for others it is a daily occurrence. During normal digestion food enters your stomach after chewing and is prevented from coming back up your esophagus by your lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When heartburn occurs your LES is weak and allows your acidic stomach juices to flow back up into your esophagus. This can be very painful and limiting, especially for those who experience it on a daily occurrence. Overtime the acidic stomach juices can irritate the esophageal lining and may even cause esophageal cancer. The chronic condition of heartburn is known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
Luckily, I have some tips on how to manage heartburn with diet and lifestyle changes
1. Limit/Avoid Trigger Foods- The most common trigger foods are mint, chocolate, and caffeinated drinks like coffee or soda. These can cause the LES to have reduced pressure and therefore allow the stomach juices to flow back up into the esophagus. The key is to to make sure the LES is tight so nothing can get back into your esophagus. Even if you eat acidic foods such as, tomatoes or oranges, this should not bother you because when the LES is working properly it should not allow stomach contents back up into the esophagus. However, citrus, raw onions, tomatoes and spicy foods may aggravate symptoms even further. It may help to keep a food diary to know which foods bother you the most.
2. Limit/Avoid Alcohol & Smoking- Alcohol and smoking are notorious for lowering the pressure of the LES. Everyone is a little bit different in their tolerance level. Some people may be able to tolerate 1-2 drinks but other people may not be able to tolerate any drinks.
3. Eat Until Your Satisfied- Overeating will most likely will cause extra pressure on the stomach resulting in heartburn. Your stomach is a reservoir for food items you eat. Its purpose is to mix and breakdown the food and pass it into the small intestine. If the stomach is overfull then it will not do as good of a job of breaking down the food. Think about it. When you want to clean a jar of peanut butter, do you fill the water to the top or do you fill it half way and then shake? You fill it half way, right? This gives the liquid more room to break down the food. Your stomach is the same way. By not overeating you are giving your stomach more room to help break down your food and
4. Avoid Laying Down After Eating– After a long day at work it may be tempting to lay down and watch TV on the couch. But this can increase your risk for heartburn. Why? Because you are not using gravity to your advantage. When you sit straight up gravity can help keep food contents in the stomach where it should be, but if you lay down then gravity may pull the stomach contents back up your esophagus.
5. Avoid High Fat Meals- Fat is good in moderation, but when you eat a high fat meal this can delay your stomach contents from emptying into your intestines. So you are left with a very full stomach and increased pressure in the abdomen area. This will likely lead to heartburn if your LES is dysfunctional. Aim for 20-35% of your calories to come from fat at each meal.
6. Go for a Walk After Meals- Walking after meals can help with digestion. Physical activity stimulates the GI tract to start working, otherwise known as peristalsis. This will help empty the stomach contents sooner into the small intestines. Even a five minute walk can help!
7. Supplements- Some supplements have been shown to help with heartburn symptoms. There is not a lot of clinical research but the studies that have been done are promising. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database caraway oil, artichoke leaf extract and angelica may be used to help in treatment of indigestion. Please speak with a health care professional before starting any supplements.
8. Weight Loss- If you are overweight, weight loss may alleviate your heartburn. It is believed that excess weight can cause extra pressure on the stomach which pushes the stomach contents into the esophagus. A small, 1-2 lb/week weight loss might give you dramatic relief.
If none of the above methods work for you, then I encourage you to see your doctor. He/She may be able to provide you with medication to help give you with some relief. You might also want to ask if any medications you are currently on have a side effect of heartburn such as blood pressure medications.
Heartburn can be a very painful condition. I hope the strategies I provided you with today give you the relief you deserve. If there were any strategies that helped you that I did not mention, please comment below.