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Here’s Help for Heartburn: Learn How to Prevent Reflux Without Pills

Here’s Help for Heartburn: Learn How to Prevent Reflux Without Pills

Have you ever experienced reflux? 

Often referred to as heartburn, reflux is a burning sensation that happens in your chest and can be quite uncomfortable. It is relatively common, so if you experience it on a regular basis, you are not alone. Luckily, there are a few ways that we can help heartburn by making diet and lifestyle modifications. Let’s take a look.

What is Reflux?

Reflux happens when acid from the stomach makes its way back up into the esophagus. This can cause irritation and a “burning” sensation, which is why it is often called heartburn. While it actually has nothing to do with the heart itself, the burning sensation occurs in an area that feels close to the heart, hence its name. Reflux or heartburn is common, and because so many people can experience symptoms on a weekly basis, it is important to talk about ways we can prevent and manage it through diet and lifestyle. 

A Lesson in Anatomy

Before we begin talking about prevention, let’s review some anatomy to help us understand what is happening when we experience heartburn. In the images below, we can see the GI tract from start to finish. The area to focus on when it comes to reflux is where the esophagus and the stomach meet. Between the two, there is a sphincter that helps food flow in the direction that it should as we are eating. Under normal circumstances, this sphincter maintains good pressure, but when we experience heartburn, it is because this sphincter has decreased in pressure, and contents from the stomach can flow back up into the esophagus.

A view of the GI tract

https://houstonheartburn.com/top-heartburn-myths/

https://www.britannica.com/science/gastrointestinal-tract

 

Three Areas of Prevention

There are three different areas of prevention that we can focus on. The first is through lifestyle modifications, which include areas like stress management, sleeping habits, and refraining from smoking, as these can all influence heartburn. Next is through diet modifications. What, when, and how much you eat can also influence the frequency and severity of heartburn. Lastly, there are medications that decrease the amount of acid that the stomach produces. Let’s focus on ways that we can prevent heartburn through lifestyle and diet modifications. 

Lifestyle Modifications 

There are four different areas of lifestyle modifications that can help to prevent and ease heartburn. The first is to avoid smoking. The sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach loses pressure and its ability to keep stomach acid in its place because of smoking. Next, another area to focus on is sleep habits. Elevating your head when sleeping can help to increase the angle of elevation so that the esophagus is above the stomach, making it more difficult for stomach acid to backflow. Additionally, avoiding eating too close to bedtime can also provide benefits, as this allows the body adequate time to digest food before laying down. Finally, appropriate stress management can be very beneficial, as stress can increase the amount of stomach acid that the body produces. 

All About Diet

Now let’s focus more closely on the role that diet can play. As mentioned previously, eating too close to bedtime can cause problems, as well as eating or drinking too much food. But there are certain foods that can cause heartburn as well as trigger symptoms. Let’s explore this further. 

There are two ways that food can affect heartburn. First, there are specific foods that decrease the pressure of the sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach. These include food and drinks such as alcohol, coffee or caffeine, peppermint, and foods that are high in fat. These foods will decrease the pressure of the sphincter and allow it to open more easily, causing stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus. Check out our article on decreasing fat consumption for some helpful tips. 

There are also foods that won’t necessarily cause heartburn by decreasing sphincter pressure but will aggravate symptoms if consumed. For example, if you already have damage to the lining of the esophagus from existing heartburn, eating spicy, acidic, or salty foods can trigger pain and irritation. So, while these foods don’t necessarily cause heartburn in the first place, they can make symptoms worse. In cases like this, it can be beneficial to hold off on foods like this until the lining has healed to avoid exacerbation of symptoms. 

How to Manage Symptoms

What can you do once you are experiencing symptoms? First, it is important to eat plenty of fiber. Soluble fiber helps to absorb liquid, which can help to soak up some of the stomach acid that is trying to escape up into the esophagus. Check out our article on fiber for more information on this topic. Next, there may be a few home remedies that can help to eliminate or decrease the severity of symptoms. Drinking ginger tea or chewing a few fennel seeds may help, and while there is not a lot of evidence to support this, it could be worth trying to see if it works for you. Additionally, loosening your clothing or standing upright can also help. Lastly, over-the-counter antacids such as Tums may provide you with quick relief. 

Things to Remember

  • The key to managing heartburn is prevention. Adopting healthy habits such as avoiding smoking, decreasing consumption of fatty foods, and learning your trigger foods can help to prevent heartburn from occurring in the first place. 
  • Aim to consume 40 grams of fiber daily. Remember, soluble fiber can help to absorb excess stomach acid, which can help prevent it from flowing back up into the esophagus. Some great soluble fiber options include oats and other whole grains, fruits like apples and bananas, and legumes. 
  • Take a look at your daily habits involving eating, sleeping, and managing stress, as these can all play an important role in preventing or causing heartburn. 

While uncomfortable, heartburn isn’t something to panic about as there are ways that you can work to prevent it. Inspecting your life and finding areas to make lifestyle modifications is a great place to start. If you would like more information on managing reflux through lifestyle, schedule an appointment with us today!

Reference

  1. Foodicine Health, Inc. (2015, August 8). Acid reflux: Heartburn: Gastroesophageal reflux disease. Foodicine Health, Inc. https://www.foodicinehealth.org/medical-conditions/acid-refluxheartburngastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerd/
  2. Morozov, S., Isakov, V., & Konovalova, M. (2018). Fiber-enriched diet helps to control symptoms and improves esophageal motility in patients with non-erosive gastroesophageal reflux disease. World journal of gastroenterology, 24(21), 2291–2299. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v24.i21.2291
  3. Newberry, C., & Lynch, K. (2019). The role of diet in the development and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease: why we feel the burn. Journal of thoracic disease, 11(Suppl 12), S1594–S1601. https://doi.org/10.21037/jtd.2019.06.42
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