Prescription medications for heartburn seem convenient, but their long-term side effects are not. Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs that treat the painful condition could carry a steep price for relief. Studies hint that these medications contribute to nutrient deficiencies, joint pain, bone fractures, infections, cardiovascular diseases, and dementia. Heartburn is a symptom of underlying conditions that may require medical intervention, but lifestyle adjustments can still go a long way toward reducing it, promoting healing, and staving off further damage and illness. Cool your heartburn with these evidence-based home remedies.
Acidic foods and beverages are common heartburn triggers. Curbing intake of these items often alleviates symptoms. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends avoiding these foods:
Bananas can help relieve heartburn because they're naturally low in acid. Bananas contain pectin, which helps move food through the digestive tract faster. The fiber in the fruit also supports gastrointestinal health. Melons also provide abundant fiber that is beneficial for the gut, and honeydew and cantaloupe are natural sources of magnesium, a mineral common in some acid reflux medications.
Obesity — particularly abdominal obesity — can double a person's risk of developing gastric reflux symptoms such as heartburn. An Italian study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology suggests losing 10% of one's weight (for those who are overweight) helps reduce heartburn and PPI use in people with GERD; losing excess weight around the waist can reduce upward pressure on the LES, the muscular ring that separates the stomach and esophagus. Gastric reflux occurs when this ring weakens and allows stomach acid to enter the esophagus. Losing weight is one of the most effective ways to obtain long-term heartburn relief without medication.
Alcohol contributes to heartburn; it increases stomach acid production, weakening the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle ring that keeps stomach acid from flowing into the esophagus. White wine may cause more heartburn than red wine, which is less acidic, although one study found that both red and white wine increased stomach acidity. However, beer is highly acidic. Darker, harder beverages such as rum, whiskey, and brandy contain congeners that can exacerbate stomach irritation and lead to heartburn.
Physical activity has well-documented benefits for overall health, but some evidence suggests working out may aggravate digestive disorders, including heartburn. Sometimes, exercise decreases LES pressure. Getting active too soon after eating is a common factor in heartburn, as well. Certain routines can bring on reflux episodes more than others; low-impact movements such as cycling seem to be easier on the digestive tract than high-impact workouts like running.
If you experience heartburn frequently, modify your eating and sleeping habits. Try not to lie down for at least two hours after you eat. This gives your body time to digest your last meal and will decrease the stomach contents that could reflux while you sleep. Gastroenterologists also advise elevating your head when you rest. An under-mattress foam wedge that raises your head six to ten inches helps reduce nighttime symptoms. Pillows alone do not elevate the head enough to prevent acid reflux.
Smoking is a leading risk factor for heartburn. It incites inflammation in the esophagus and increases the risk of esophageal cancer. In fact, heartburn is a common early sign of this disease. The nicotine in cigarettes also lowers LES pressure, making it easier for acid from the stomach to reach the esophagus and cause symptoms.
Anxiety, stress, and depression may amplify heartburn, further diminishing quality of life. Learning to manage these challenges can bring relief to body and mind. According to a 2019 study in the Indian Journal of Gastroenterology, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques can lower stress levels and reduce GERD symptoms. MSBR methods include yoga and sitting and walking meditations. Other practices incorporate mindfulness throughout the day. Mindful eating, deliberate breathing, and being present and fully engaged in the moment have demonstrated remarkable stress- and illness-reducing benefits in clinical trials and surveys.
Participants in a Journal of Dental Research study found relief from heartburn after chewing sugar-free gum for 30 minutes
. Chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva, which neutralizes throat acid. It makes you swallow more frequently, which helps clear reflux within the esophagus. The repetitive movements of gum chewing may also have a calming effect that eases the symptoms.
If you are experiencing severe pressure or pain in your chest, call a healthcare provider right away, as this could indicate a serious condition that requires immediate attention. Other symptoms that indicate the need for medical attention include heartburn more than twice weekly, symptoms that persist despite OTC medications, lasting queasiness or vomiting, difficulty swallowing, and rapid weight loss due to difficulty eating or poor appetite.
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