Today we’re going to discuss heartburn, but before I talk about what we’re going to talk about it, I need to talk about something else. Symptoms of a heart attack can mimic heartburn. I know from personal experience that an antacid will not cure a heart attack, so if your heartburn is accompanied by cold sweats, a pain in one or both arms, discomfort in the jaw, neck or back or you feel faint, please seek emergency medical care immediately. If not, read on.
Most of us will suffer occasional heartburn. WebMD says that more than 60 million American adults, including pregnant women, will have heartburn at least once a month and that fifteen million of us will have it every day.
When heartburn occurs frequently, let’s say once or twice a week, it is usually diagnosed as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
“GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the ring of muscle between your esophagus and your stomach,” WebMD explains. “This ring is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). In normal digestion, your LES opens to allow food into your stomach. Then it closes to stop food and acidic stomach juices from flowing back into your esophagus. GERD happens when the LES is weak or relaxes when it shouldn’t. This lets the stomach’s contents flow up into the esophagus.”
Ekta Gupta, MBBS, MD, is a gastroenterologist with Johns Hopkins Medicine. In an article that Dr. Gupta wrote she said that “diet plays a major role in controlling acid reflux symptoms and is the first line of therapy used for people with GERD.”
At the top, she talks about food triggers. You know, those that cause the symptoms. They include foods high in fat, salt or spice such as fried food, fast food, pizza, potato chips and other processed snacks, chili powder and pepper (white black, cayenne), fatty meats such as bacon or sausage, and cheese. Other food triggers can include tomato-based sauces or catsup, citrus fruits, chocolate, peppermint and carbonated beverages.
“Moderation is key since many people may not be able to or want to completely eliminate these foods,” Dr. Gupta said. “But try to avoid eating problem foods late in the evening closer to bedtime, so they’re not sitting in your stomach and then coming up your esophagus when you lay down at night. It’s also a good idea to eat small frequent meals instead of bigger, heavier meals and avoid late-night dinners and bedtime snacks.”
Dr. Gupta said that there are foods that help prevent acid reflux and that’s the good news. She says to stock your kitchen with foods high in fiber like whole grains including oatmeal, couscous, brown rice, and both root and green vegetables. Sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, asparagus, broccoli and green beans are all excellent high-fiber choices. Eat alkaline foods that can offset strong stomach acid such as bananas, melons, cauliflower, fennel and nuts, and watery foods that can dilute and weaken stomach acid like celery, cucumber, lettuce, watermelon, broth-based soups and herbal teas.
“People with heartburn commonly reach for antacids, over-the-counter medications that neutralize stomach acid. But eating certain foods may also offer relief from symptoms,” Dr. Gupta said.
For instance, she suggests drinking fat-free milk. “Nonfat milk can act as a temporary buffer between the stomach lining and acidic stomach contents and provide immediate relief of heartburn symptoms.” She also said that low-fat yogurts can alleviate symptoms while adding probiotics which are good bacteria that help digestion.
Also on her list of home remedies is ginger, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. “Ginger is one of the best digestive aids because of its medicinal properties. It’s alkaline in nature and anti-inflammatory, which eases irritation in the digestive tract.”
But wait! Apple cider vinegar? And lemon juice? There isn’t enough research, but lots of people swear by diluting a small amount of vinegar in warm water to drink with meals. And, a small amount of lemon juice in warm water with honey has an alkalizing effect that neutralizes stomach acid.
“Also, honey has natural antioxidants, which protect the health of cells,” Dr. Gupta said just before she said to be sure to see your primary care provider if changing your diet doesn’t help your heartburn symptoms.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.