Millions of people globally suffer from heartburn. Are you one of them? Do you ever feel a burning sensation in your chest or abdomen after a heavy meal, find yourself regurgitating food or having difficulty swallowing? If so, you may be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What Happens During Heartburn?
Gastroesophageal reflux (GER), also known as heartburn or acid reflux, occurs when the contents of the stomach (stomach acid and food) escapes out of the stomach into the esophagus (the tube that links your mouth to your stomach). It sometimes reaches all the way up to the throat and mouth. The contact of stomach acid with the lining of the esophagus causes the burning sensation.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Digestive Diseases, around twenty-five million people experience heartburn daily. However, if the symptoms of heartburn or GER prevail for a long time, they can lead to the more severe GERD.
What Causes Heartburn?
The lower esophageal sphincter (valve), a muscle located between the stomach and the esophagus, closes when there is food in the stomach and remains closed when a person is not eating. Heartburn happens when this valve becomes weak or relaxes, causing the stomach contents to leak into the esophagus.
According to American Gastroenterological Association, the lower esophageal muscle can become weak due to a number of reasons:
- Pressure on the abdomen due to being overweight, obese or pregnant.
- Smoking or inhaling smoke.
- Drinking alcohol.
- Certain medications like painkillers, sleeping sedatives, antihistamines, anti-depressants.
- Eating habits, like eating too much or too fast.
- Hiatal hernia—bulging of the stomach into the chest through the hole in the diaphragm normally occupied by the lower esophageal sphincter muscle.
Which Foods Trigger Heartburn?
Avoid eating or drinking the following items that can worsen heartburn:
- Alcoholic drinks
- Caffeinated drinks like coffee or tea
- Greasy or spicy foods
- Tomatoes and tomato products
Which Foods Improve Heartburn?
According to Chris Kresser, the author of Heartburn/GERD, the following items can help prevent or reduce this:
- Low carbohydrate foods, which can help reduce bacterial overgrowth.
- Fruits and non-starchy vegetables like winter squash, turnips, and celery roots.
- Apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and raw (unpasteurized) sauerkraut and pickles.
- Fermented milk products like kefir and yogurt.
- Bone broth.
The following changes in lifestyle can improve heartburn symptoms:
- Avoid heavy meals. Eat frequent small meals, and eat slowly.
- Lose weight, if required.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes to avoid squeezing the stomach area and pushing acid up into the esophagus.
- Do not sleep immediately after meals. Wait for 2-3 hours after eating.
- Avoid reclining and slouching when sitting.
- Raise the angle of the bed while sleeping. Raise the head of the bed 6 to 8 inches by safely putting blocks under the bedposts or using extra pillows.
- Quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoke.
- Consult with your doctor or gastroenterologist if symptoms persist and you are concerned.
Finally Heartburn is a condition that millions of people experience every day. It might not seem serious to many people since it is not life-threatening. However, if not taken seriously it can lead to serious diseases – people who suffer from GERD are 78% more likely to suffer from throat cancer. The good news is that heartburn can be easily cured and prevented by making simple dietary and lifestyle changes.References