That grating, burning pain bubbling up your esophagus and into your throat is called heartburn. Nearly everyone will experience this painful condition at some time, usually brought on by stress, certain foods, age and lifestyle. Chronic heartburn – experienced two times or more per week – can be a sign of a more serious illness called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), for which you should see your doctor. However, if you have occasional heartburn, changes in your diet can greatly improve your digestive health and put an end to that fiery feeling in your chest and throat.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when you have an irritation of the esophageal lining because stomach acid seeps up through a valve, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and into your esophagus.In addition to a weak LES, overeating and too much pressure on the stomach (often with pregnancy or obesity) can worsen heartburn. Foods that relax the LES are also to blame. These foods include: acidic fruit, such as citrus and tomatoes, garlic, onions, chocolate, coffee and other caffienated beverages, alcohol, peppermint, and high-fat foods.Stress, smoking and medications can also contribute to heartburn by relaxing the LES and/or stimulating the overproduction of stomach acid. And don’t underestimate the power of a tight belt — restrictive clothing can put pressure on your stomach and force acid back into your esophagus, too.
Natural remedies for heartburn
Though you can take over-the-counter antacids or prescription acid-blocking medications, learning how to control heartburn through natural means, such as changing your diet, is a much more effective, healthy, and long-term approach. Here are some tips.
1. Understand heartburn
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Natural Remedies, written by Remedy magazine columnist Chrystle Fielder, suggests becoming a “diet detective” as your first line of defense against heartburn. Fielder recommends visiting HeartburnAlliance.com to learn more about the condition as well as offending foods you should avoid.
2. Keep a food journal
If you’re on a weight loss program, you may already be keeping a food diary. In addition to the types and amounts of foods you eat, to help reduce the occurrence of heartburn, start keeping track of how foods affect you. Ditch the foods that cause heartburn.
3. Drink water before eating
A tip from Brenda Watson, author of The Fiber 35 Diet, drinking an 8-ounce glass of water 30 minutes before a meal can get digestion off to a good start. Fielder says, “The lining in your stomach is made of mucous, which is 90 percent waterâ€¦drinking water starts mucous production before you eat, and you’ll have less of a chance of heartburn.” But don’t drink more than a glass of water since too much water can dilute your digestive enzymes.
4. Chew, and chew some more
Watson explains, “If you don’t chew well, it’s much harder for nutrients to be absorbed by the body. It can also set you up for heartburn.” Digestion starts in your mouth — chew your food into very small pieces before swallowing.
5. Take digestive enzymes
Visit your health food store and buy some digestive enzymes. Betaine hydrochloric acid supplements can help your body digest proteins by assisting your stomach’s own hydrochloric acid in processing food. Other helpful digestive enzymes to consider are bromelain and papain, both derived from tropical fruits.
6. Eat bitter herbs
Fielder suggests dandelion leaves, which can help the body produce more digestive enzymes; deglycyrrizinated licorice, which can help calm the digestive tract; and broccoli sprouts, which have been shown to eliminate the H. pylori, the bacteria associated with heartburn, ulcers, and even stomach cancer.
7. Up your probiotic intake
Improving your digestive health can reduce your risk of heartburn. Probiotics, like those found in yogurt, not only help with digestion, they also boost your overall health. According to Fielder, probiotics also better the absorption of B vitamins.