Heartburn: How To Deal With It Effectively

Acid reflux (also known as heartburn) occurs when acidic digestive juices crawl up from the stomach and back into the esophagus. This creates a burning sensation – almost as if your chest and throat are on fire. Other symptoms of acid reflux include a bitter taste in the mouth, bad breath, gum irritation, gas and an inability to sleep, as well as waking up feeling like you’re choking.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a more severe form of acid reflux with more severe symptoms. The esophagus is the tube in the body that delivers food to your stomach. Usually, stomach acid cannot seep into the esophagus as the esophagus has a barrier to prevent this – the lower esophageal sphincter. This sphincter stays closed and only opens when you swallow. However, acid reflux can weaken its muscles and in some severe cases, this can greatly increase the risk of esophageal cancer. Diet plays an important role in heartburn. The following foods can be quite problematic:

1. Alcohol

Excessive alcohol intake is never a good idea and increasing the risk of acid reflux only furthers this point. Aside from being able to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, studies have shown how alcohol can also increase the levels of stomach acid in the body, which increases the risk of heartburn. Furthermore, excessive consumption of alcohol can also harm the lining of the esophagus and this makes it more sensitive to stomach acid.

2. Chocolate

It may be a great treat but chocolate may trigger heartburn.

Chocolate contains the happy hormone serotonin, and studies have linked serotonin with a relaxed lower esophageal sphincter.

3. Citrus drinks

Your favorite citrus drink may be the cause of your recent heartburn. Although it’s not entirely clear as to why this happens, studies have shown that citrus drinks are capable of causing acid reflux.

4. High-fat foods

Foods high in fat, regardless of whether they’re good fats or bad fats, may cause heartburn. High fat foods are capable of relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter. Furthermore, the fat from the foods boosts the release of the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK). Not only can this hormone relax the lower esophageal sphincter, but it also encourages food to sit in the stomach longer and this can increase the risk of acid reflux.

5. Milk

Although some people suggest drinking milk when you’ve eaten something chili to ease its spicy effect, whole milk has been linked to heartburn. According to studies, whole milk can increase the production of stomach acid. The milks’ fat content has been presented as a contributing factor.

6. Onions

Like the other foods on this list, onions may relax the lower esophageal sphincter. Furthermore, onions are high in fermentable fibre which promotes belching which can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms.

7. Salt

According to a study published in the journal Gut, adding table salt to your meals or consuming salted foods can greatly increase your risk of acid reflux.

8. Sodas

Sodas and carbonated beverages have been linked to acid reflux. Studies have shown their potential to relax the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the level of acidity in stomach acid.

9. Spicy foods

Spicy foods are seen as common culprits when it comes to causing acid reflux. They are often rich in the compound capsaicin which may keep food in the stomach a little longer by slowing the rate of digestion. Food sitting in the stomach for a longer period of time is a risk factor for heartburn. These foods can also aggravate your esophagus, worsening acid reflux symptoms.

Foods to help ease heartburn

While there are foods that can make your heartburn worse, there are other foods that may help relieve symptoms. These include:

  • Ginger
  • Bananas and melons
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Grains and potatoes
  • Yogurt
  • Fermented vegetables
  • Almonds
  • Honey

Final tips in dealing with heartburn

Aside from altering your diet, there are other lifestyle changes you can make if you’re looking to avoid acid reflux. Be sure to eat smaller meals so that the food gets properly digested as overeating can put extra pressure on the esophagus. Also, chew properly so that your stomach has an easier time digesting the food. Lastly, try not to consume food three hours before bed as this will give your stomach a chance to properly digest the foods. Stress management is also important as stress can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms. Lastly, quit smoking. Like many foods, smoking can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, increasing the risk for acid reflux.

Acid reflux is common, however if your symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it’s best to consult a doctor.