How to Avoid Heartburn
Do you suffer from heartburn?
If you experience burning pain behind your breastbone, especially after eating or at night, or an acidic or bitter taste in your mouth, or throat irritation, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
“The terms GERD and heartburn are interchangeable,” says Elizabeth Ferrer, RD, LD/N, CNSC, a clinical dietitian with the University of Miami Health System. “Both refer to what happens when the lower esophageal sphincter muscle relaxes and allows stomach acid to flow up into the esophagus. This acid reflux or backwash irritates the lining of the esophagus and creates the sensation we call heartburn. When the sphincter muscle functions properly, it blocks stomach acids from entering your esophagus.”
Some people are more affected by GERD at night. They may experience disrupted sleep, a chronic cough, or laryngitis. If they have asthma, it may get worse.
A few dietary and lifestyle changes, if followed consistently, might relieve your heartburn. If these steps aren’t sufficient, you should see a doctor.
What foods and beverages aggravate heartburn?
“From my experience, it varies per Individual,” says Diego Garzon, RDN, LDN. “But there are some common culprits that have been identified in most individuals with GERD.”
The top six culprits are:
- Caffeine-containing foods: This may include most teas, chocolates, and energy drinks. Some swaps may be decaf drinks or herbal teas.
- Citrus fruits and juices: Avoid oranges, pineapples, lemons, and grapefruit. Some swaps may be bananas, berries, or red apples.
- Tomato juices, sauces, and spices: Mostly avoid tomato juices and sauces due to their higher concentrations of acidity. If any, choose fresh tomatoes due to their lower acidity. Avoid garlic and onion seasoning.
- Carbonated Drinks: Avoid carbonated drinks due to increased stomach distention and bloating due to carbonation. Be aware that drinks like Kombucha, energy drinks, and seltzer tend to be carbonated. You should especially avoid these drinks with large meals.
- Alcohol: Alcohol tends to be highly acidic. Having a small bland, alkaline snack may counter the acidic nature of alcohol. Some snack ideas include almonds, crackers, low-fat cheese, and nut butters.
Additional culprits include single high-fat meals, mint, and mint oils.
We now know what not to consume or to consume in moderation. Do any foods relieve heartburn?
Garzon: Consuming higher protein meals with lower fat may reduce the exacerbation of acid reflux. Non-fat or lower-fat milk and yogurts may act as a buffer against stomach acid. Some studies show that ginger root tea promotes gastric contractions that close off the sphincter and aid digestion.
Foods that help prevent acid reflux include:
- Fiber-rich foods such as leafy greens, lettuce, broccoli, cucumber, cauliflower, celery, oatmeal, couscous, brown rice, starchy vegetables, and nuts
- Fruit, including bananas, melons, apples, and watermelon.
Besides diet, what other actions improve heartburn symptoms?
“In addition to diet modifications, there are some lifestyle changes that may alleviate heartburn symptoms,” says Roberto C. Morales Hernandez, RDN, LDN, CNSC.
Some of these are:
- If overweight or obese, moderate weight loss is recommended.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothes since these put pressure on your stomach.
- While eating, sit upright and remain upright (sitting or standing) for 45-60 minutes afterward.
- Avoid laying down, lifting, or bending for at least 2 hours after eating.
- If going to sleep close to eating or snacking, consider increasing the head of the bed but 6-8 inches with a taller pillow, bed risers, or blocks.
- Avoid lying on your right side while sleeping because it may increase reflux.
- Consider over-the-counter medication to treat GERD, such as antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPI), or H2 receptor blockers.
If you still have heartburn after changing your diet and lifestyle and trying over-the-counter or prescription medications, what’s next?
Morales Hernandez: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is very common, affecting around 20% of the US population. The chances of having GERD (Mild or Severe) increase after the age of 40. Consider making an appointment with for Primary Care Physician if you experience severe or frequent GERD symptoms and/or take over-the-counter medications more than twice a week. Your doctor may be able to prescribe stronger medications to tame your heartburn. GERD itself is not dangerous or life-treating, but long-term GERD can lead to more serious health problems like Esophagitis, Barrett’s Esophagus, Esophageal Cancer, or Strictures.
Nancy Moreland is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. She has written for several major health care systems and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can also find her writings in the Chicago Tribune.
Originally published on: January 05, 2021