Heartburn is often described as a burning pain in the chest and/or at the the top of the stomach. It is said to be like having a ‘heart attack’ by some sufferers due to the location of the pain being behind the ribs or sternum in the chest area. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. (N.I.C.E.) estimate that annually 40% of the population report experiencing symptoms.
If your lower oesophagus muscle is weak they will not function so well. This means that acid produced in your stomach rises up and can splash into your oesophagus, causing those familiar burning sensations. (It is worth noting here that heartburn is often noted as a symptom of acid reflux).
Having heartburn can often be debilitating due to the pain. You can suffer for a few minutes or for several hours. It will generally last until all the food causing the problem has been fully digested.
In the longer term, if heartburn is not treated successfully it can cause damage to the oesophageal lining. Further problems such as Barrett’s Oesophagus or even cancer of the oesophagus may develop if early symptoms are ignored and not investigated further.
Heartburn (also known as dyspepsia or indigestion) is the general term used for a poor digestion that causes pain. This can show itself as bloating or discomfort after a large meal (think how you feel after eating your Christmas dinner).
Even a ‘fatty’ or spicy meal can cause this response – and is actually quite normal. Eating too quickly or on the move also causes this inflammation (but not for everyone). Symptoms can therefore be linked to particular dietary and lifestyle issues through cause and effect.
In medical terms, persistent indigestion could mean that you have gallstones or an ulcer. If you don’t have poor dietary habits and you are not overweight then you need to rule out these medical conditions, so arrange to see your G.P.
Symptoms of Heartburn:
- Dry throat
- Husky voice
- Burp a lot
- Suffer with flatulence
- Feel like something is stuck in the throat
Heartburn and acid reflux are often confused. The symptoms of acid reflux happen more regularly (often daily even several times a day), and doesn’t necessarily connect to what you’ve eaten. Acid leaks out of the stomach into the gullet and often comes up into the mouth causing acidic burning in the back of the throat, causing difficulty in swallowing. This can damage your vocal cords if left untreated.
The valve separating the oesophagus from the stomach is called the lower oesophageal sphincter. This muscle can suffer damage and lose control due to an hiatus hernia (in my case it was a sliding hiatus hernia that was sliding in and out of the stomach into the oesophagus). This in turn can lead to ‘burns’ and scarring in the oesophagus over the mid to longer term, (which was my part of my problem). After many years taking medication for heartburn, followed by medication to relieve acid reflux, I needed major surgery and am happy to report that I am now well and heartburn free.
A further cause of acid reflux to bear in mind could be that you have a Helicobacter pylori (H. Pylori) infection.
Indigestion is often experienced during pregnancy due to excess pressure on the abdomen caused by the growing baby. This forces acid up from the stomach into the oesophagus.
Low Stomach Acid
It is estimated that 40% of over 40 year olds may be suffering low stomach acid rather than too much acid. An alarming figure!
You need your stomach acid to ensure digestive processes work properly. Food is broken down and pushed from your stomach into the rest of the digestive system. Your body is usually efficient in extracting what is needed from your food to remain healthy. Reducing stomach acid (by taking antacids for example) may be the wrong thing for you to do.
The acid in your stomach is hydrochloric acid (HCI) and it is important that you produce enough of it to avoid further digestive problems. And yes, this is the acid that is so strong that if you got it on your skin it would burn! This acid also deals with any bacteria that may be present in the food you’ve eaten.
HCI is needed to break down proteins in your food, and to absorb nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
Low stomach acid can also be caused by an imbalance in your gut bacteria. This could be due to eating too many processed foods. It can also make you susceptible to heartburn after eating certain food groups such as (in my particular case) red meat and eggs.
However, with low acid, food isn’t dealt with as it should be. It sits in the stomach longer as without enough acid the stomach can’t work quickly enough to break the food down. This causes bloating and burping as the food sits and ferments in the stomach. You get a feeling of there being too much acid and then familiar heartburn symptoms.
Bloating and burping are common with both high and low levels of stomach acid. So you reach for an antacid for temporary relief without addressing the underlying causes. However, long term use of these can give you more problems than they solve.
Stomach acid declines naturally with age, and incidences of heartburn are more noticeable in this age group – as is a drop in appetite, bloating and inability to digest food efficiently.
There are other lifestyle issues that may be contributory factors in terms of heartburn and low stomach acid such as stress, habits such as chewing gum and fluoride in water.
There is no definitive test to check if you are suffering from high or low stomach acid unfortunately. However, I have heard of the ‘beetroot test’ but haven’t tried it myself. You eat a boiled beetroot, within a day, check if your urine or stools are pink (or even darker). If they are then you may not have enough stomach acid. The colour change is due to your acid not being sufficient to break down the pigment in the beetroot.
How you eat and drink
Let’s take a look and see what lifestyle changes we can make to each of these triggers, to try and prevent heartburn happening in the first place, or to soothe it when it occurs:
1. Dietary Changes
This is an area that you can generally make the biggest lifestyle improvements in to address your heartburn problems.
If you are overweight then medical advice is always to lose the extra weight. Being heavy, and particularly carrying excess weight on the stomach (‘apple’ shape), causes pressure internally and forces the stomach (and acid) up when you lay on your side. It is particularly noticeable when lying in bed.
Portion size seems to be an issue these days – with fast food outlets in every town and city. You will no doubt have noticed how these restaurants and takeaways want you to ‘super-size’ and take every opportunity to encourage you to do so. Many people consume these products as a ‘snack’ in addition to their main meals and eat them on the go – this is not only unhealthy in terms of your heartburn and digestion but on so many other health levels too. The NHS Eatwell Plate Guide shows the foods you should consume daily.
Try weighing and measuring your food if you think this could be a contributor to your heartburn. Don’t feel that you have to eat everything on your plate, particularly when eating out. It’s so easy when you are busy chatting and not being aware, that before you know it you’ve eaten and drank more than you should (or normally would). Be mindful of eating and drinking when you are trying to get your heartburn under control. Soft drinks (particularly fizzy) have no nutritional value either, with the fizz contributing to heartburn.
On the subject of eating out – from my experience those all-you-can-eat buffets or a pub carvery are best avoided. Large plates, a huge choice, fat laden and carb heavy foods, all contribute to bloating and heartburn symptoms. Eating too much, or too much of a particular food type such as fat or sugar, means your stomach and digestion will struggle to cope, giving you nausea, bloating and heartburn.
Fatty, fast foods may have little nutritional value but your body still has to deal with the digestion of them. The fat and grease means that your stomach has to produce more acid to deal with them so when you’re prone to heartburn it makes its way back up again.
At home, try using a smaller plate for your meals, this tricks your mind into feeling that you’ve eaten more than you actually have, as the plate looks so full.
Don’t skip any of your meals. This is counter-productive in terms of heartburn symptoms. I found that little and often worked for me – but a word of caution – be careful about your overall calorie intake. Eating little and often (with healthy snacks) however, will help your stomach as it will be under less digestive stress.
Making unhealthy food choices or even thinking that missing a meal will help you, is a sure recipe for poor heartburn control and can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes. A diet that is heavy on carbs and fat is not a good choice for you in general. It is also worth noting that you should be wary of sugar particularly, as it can feed unfriendly bacteria in your gut.
Start your day with a fibre loaded breakfast, then a healthy mid morning snack like banana or a handful of almonds. For lunch avoid your triggers, but choose something substantial and filling (I found my heartburn was better if I chose this time of day to have my carbs). To avoid a blood sugar dip mid-afternoon, don’t reach for chocolate or biscuits but opt for a healthier snack. Then for your evening meal choose lean white meat or fish, and try and choose a few days a week to have a vegetarian meal – again take care with calories and don’t select meals heavy in cheese for example. Make this meal your last meal of the day and don’t choose any night-time snacks or drinks.
I read with interest Dr Michael Mosley’s choice of eating within a 12 hour window and thought that this might have a positive effect on my heartburn, as I suffered very badly when in bed. I have 3 meals a day with healthy snacks in-between, have my last meal between 7.00-8.00pm and make sure there is a good 3 hours between eating and sleeping. Breakfast is always at least 12 hours after the last meal the previous day. It has taken me a little while to get used to, but I have to say that it didn’t take too long to feel benefits.
Acidic foods to avoid or eliminate if suffering from heartburn:
|Onions, particularly raw onions||Mint (particularly peppermint)||Ice cream|
|Garlic||Citrus fruit & juices||Crisps|
|Tomato sauces (pizza base, salsa)||Fried Foods||Mayo|
|Sour cream||Dairy||Salad cream|
|Caffeine||Red meat||Bread & gluten|
This is quite a lengthy list, and at one time or another I tried eliminating each item from my diet, with various degrees of success (but not as many as I would have liked). Each person is different so it is personal choice how you approach this. You may be lucky and find big improvements by avoiding one or two of these from your diet.
Tomatoes can cause quite painful heartburn, particularly it seems if they are in a recipe with mozzarella. General stomach acid struggles to deal with them both if you’re a heartburn sufferer.
Personally, I found Fajitas a problem – tomatoes, onions, garlic, tomato based sauce and sour cream! Red meat too caused me a problem. This is high in protein and is hard for your digestion to break down. (It is even more difficult if you eat fatty cuts of meat).
Onions can be a big trigger for many heartburn sufferers. They can set off an attack or make an existing one worse because of their ability to relax the sphincter muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus.
Even without suffering from heartburn there are some people who have difficulty consuming dairy products. Full fat cow’s milk and dairy products have high fat and protein. Sugars in the milk can cause an intolerance and this contributes towards heartburn.
Low stomach acid sufferers often find they have issues with dairy products due to enzymes such as lactose in milk that are broken down by lactase. This becomes less efficient as we age and can cause problems. Acid soothing natural products are available to help with boosting your enzyme production.
Chewing gum increases saliva production and as you tend to swallow more when you chew, you take in more air. This can cause you to burp to get rid of the air and increase the likelihood of heartburn. However, the chewing and extra saliva can actually ‘dilute’ the acid and ease heartburn. For a short while this worked for me but it soon stopped being effective.
I’m probably going to say something that may be controversial to some people but drinking lots of water actually gave me heartburn. I know we all need to ‘up’ our daily intake but taking in too much water can disrupt the balance in the body.
I enjoyed a glass of fresh orange or grapefruit juice on a morning, but it added to heartburn as did juicing in general unfortunately so I stopped. I stress this was my experience only.
Changes to make to foods in your diet that can help to soothe heartburn:
- Use oil based dressings on salads as this can ‘sit’ better in your stomach and cause less heartburn.
- Try semi-skimmed or skimmed milk as a replacement for full fat cow’s milk.
- Almond milk, oat milk and soy milk are good dairy alternatives – these are popular in ‘free-from’ ranges in our supermarkets. They are not acidic and can help to neutralise stomach acid.
- Hot (not boiling water) instead of tea and coffee. I found this much more soothing for me than coffee and even herbal teas. It is thought however that 100% Arabica coffee beans are not too bad in preventing heartburn.
- Try decaffeinated herbal teas (but not mint). There are reports that you can find relief from chamomile, ginger and liquorice flavours.
- Choose carrot, beet, watermelon, cucumber or pear juices as these are less acidic for the body to deal with than citrus juices. Try making your own juices from a combination of these. If you can include the pulp too then you will get valuable fibre into your diet as an added bonus.
- Smoothies can be less acidic than juices, particularly if you add veggies to give you an extra nutritional boost. Spinach, kale and avocado are particularly good and count towards your 5-a-day. I found smoothies with added Inulin powder quite calming on my stomach.
- Ginger is known as being beneficial in settling the stomach and as a digestive aid. I grated a small amount into my morning smoothie. I do know of others who grate a small piece into a glass of hot water and sip this throughout the day. My grandmother, (also a heartburn sufferer) used to swear by a warmed whisky with ginger added.
- Liquorice helps with soothing the lining of the oesophagus. But avoid the sweetened type to keep your calorie content lower.
- Apple cider vinegar – I have no experience in trying this but have heard anecdotal positive reports that it settles digestion. It can be very sour, so dilute in water with a little honey.
Probiotics and Prebiotics Explained:
These are known to help keep your gut bacteria strong and to calm your digestion by supporting a healthy gut balance. Having strong gut bacteria is known to lessen the chances of suffering from heartburn.
You have a combination of billions of good bacteria but also some unfriendly types. To keep your digestion healthy you need to strike a balance. The best way to do this is to address your diet and lifestyle deficiencies.
To increase your ‘friendly’ bacteria and reap the benefits you need probiotics like Lactobacilli in your small intestine and Bifidobacteria in your large intestine (these are often found in morning yoghurt drinks). These bacteria are both beneficial to your gut.
Unlike probiotics these are not bacteria but they support the growth of helpful gut bacteria. The best way to take these are via dietary fibre such as Inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides and galacto-oligosaccharides. These can be found naturally in fibre-containing foods or taken in supplements. I found a benefit from a small amount of Inulin powder each day.
By taking prebiotics to support areas in your gut where friendly bacteria are, they can increase, strengthen and begin to outnumber the unfriendly bacteria.
The balance in the gut is a delicate thing and junk foods, artificial sweeteners, chemicals in food or too much bad bacteria can give you digestion problems including heartburn.
Molkosan and Inulin might be a good choice for those wanting to settle, restore and increase good bacteria with natural prebiotics, then you can move on to maintaining these healthier levels with probiotics.
2. How you eat
This is almost as important a subject as what you need to avoid eating. And even more so if you suffer from heartburn.
So many of us eat on the move, in the street, on the way to and from work, or slumped on the sofa at the end of the day. This is just heartburn waiting to happen!
Chew your food properly – I was told as a child to chew my food 32 times before swallowing! I thought this was an old wives tale but there is actually sound science behind it. If you gulp your food down it affects the nutrition you extract from the food, you take in air, feel bloated and that contributes to heartburn.
Do you eat while watching TV? Stop!
Do you grab a quick bite and go? Stop!
Do you eat without thinking whilst on your tablet, laptop, phone or whilst reading a book? Stop!
Take your time, think about the food that you’re eating and chew it properly. Don’t have a quick chew and then swallow. Your food needs breaking down into smaller pieces. This is so your digestive juices can work efficiently and push the food onto the next stage.
Enjoy each mouthful, start by thinking about the flavour, smell and taste. By focusing on your food the digestion is under less stress, and will work much more smoothly.
I know when we eat out waiters always ask if you want water for the table. Whilst this is admirable when trying not to have too much alcohol with your meal, it can mean that you’re taking too much liquid on board. Your food then ‘sloshes’ around in all of this liquid, limiting the speed at which it is broken down and processed. Too much liquid means that your digestive juices are diluted and with this reduction heartburn is encouraged.
Your posture is really important in general but for heartburn sufferers in particular. Stand up straight, sit up and don’t slouch (I remember my mother telling me this, I ignored for years and now I know why she said it). There’s less chance of acid escaping by maintaining correct posture.
Don’t lay down after eating – wait at least 2 hours before lounging on the sofa or going to bed. Your stomach will be in its optimal position (not slouched or slumped on a sofa) if you sit up on a proper chair to eat. Your digestive processes are designed to work this way.
If your job means that you are sedentary, then sit up straight but make sure that every 30 minutes or so you stretch your upper body and if possible have a walk around. If you don’t have an ergonomic office chair then place a small cushion in the curve of your back to elevate your stomach area.
As an aside, when you’ve eaten on an evening at home and you’re watching TV (or on your laptop whilst relaxing) keep good posture in mind. If you are engrossed in watching a good film or programme then make sure you’ve got your upper body supported.
3. Avoid Alcohol
Unfortunately, most alcohol should be avoided as it makes your stomach content more acidic in general. Many people swear that red wine causes their heartburn but for me it was white. I find in general that white wines are much more acidic than red. Beers and lagers are often very gassy and soft drinks that accompany spirits are mostly carbonated and therefore contribute to your heartburn issues.
Of course it is well known that alcohol makes you hungry, and drink, combined with overeating, can give you a night of distressing heartburn pain.
As well as making you feel relaxed, alcohol relaxes that oesophageal muscle too, contributing to even more heartburn!
4. Stop Smoking
Nicotine weakens and relaxes the sphincter muscle that opens and closes at the bottom of the oesophagus into the stomach. This is a major contributor to heartburn attacks as the acid rises into the oesophagus, so think about stopping smoking.
5. Check Current Medication
If you currently take medication for other conditions then check to see if heartburn is listed as a side effect. Discuss your medication with your doctor as you may be able to change to an alternative that is kinder to your stomach.
Some medication to watch out for –
- antibiotics or medications that contain potassium. You need to get these into your stomach and away from your oesophagus as quickly as you can. Drink a glass of water as you take them.
- Non-steroid anti-inflammatories
- Some high blood pressure drugs
- Some asthma medication
- Some allergy treatments
- Some iron tablets
Heartburn sufferers as a rule, need to exercise on a relatively empty stomach. You’ll find that if you wait 2 hours after a meal that it will have been adequately processed.
Any exercise involving bending may need to be avoided as the stomach becomes compressed and forces acid up. (Even my beloved gardening gave me heartburn).
Exercises that involve tightening your stomach muscles (such as sit-ups) can also cause problems for heartburn sufferers. Undigested or partially digested food may be forced upwards when under pressure.
Walking, meditating, swimming, stretching exercises such as yoga and pilates, are all soothing forms of exercise for the stomach. In my experience, some heartburn sufferers that I know have not had a problem with symptoms when cycling as their exercise of choice.
Be aware when exercising that you need good posture to stop any heartburn in its tracks.
The straighter you can stand or sit the better, as this will reduce stress on your stomach and on your sphincter muscle. The pressure will cause acid to escape into the oesophagus. (Your back will also benefit from the correct posture when exercising too).
Placing a cushion or small pillow in your back when seated and doing exercises in a gym could help to lift your upper body to take the pressure off the stomach and sphincter.
The importance of sleep
A lot of people aren’t aware of the correlation between good sleep and their digestive system. Your digestion needs time to rest and a good night’s sleep aids it in its processes. Whilst you’ve been awake your body has been craving energy-giving foods that it needs to keep your joints and muscles functioning, as well as fuelling your brain and nervous system. All of this food needs breaking down of course, so your digestive system is constantly on the go all day to support your metabolism. You don’t need all this energy whilst you are asleep, so your system uses this opportunity to rest.
If heartburn strikes due to your lifestyle or diet, then the wakefulness (or even insomnia) it causes deprives you of this nurturing sleep and so a vicious cycle begins.
It’s thought that those people who sleep on their right side experience heartburn more severely than those who sleep on their left. It’s thought lying on the right side causes the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle to relax, making heartburn more likely as acid is forced up to the top of the stomach.
In my own experience as a right side sleeper this wasn’t the case. I couldn’t sleep on my left side due to the sliding hiatus hernia (although I didn’t know this at the time). Changing your sleeping position might be worth a try. I actually found that I couldn’t sleep on my back or front either!
My GP suggested to me that I may benefit from using an extra pillow or by raising the mattress or bed base so that I was sleeping on an angle. I have heard that this has benefited some people, but for me, it didn’t help and it was also difficult for my husband (a non-heartburn sufferer) sleeping in the same bed. His sleep became disturbed.
Be aware that tight clothing can have an adverse effect on your attempts at keeping your heartburn under control. I got myself measured properly for my bras, but I have to say the best relief I got was from wearing soft sports bras that didn’t pinch or press on the top of my stomach at all.
Tight waistbands on skirts and trousers also became an issue (as did belts), and I had to have elasticated waists on these items as anything else led to fairly severe symptoms. Loose clothing definitely eases some of the pressure on your stomach.
8. Hormone Imbalance
Hormone imbalances occur generally before your period is due, during pregnancy and in the years up to menopause.
The ovaries and the adrenal gland release progesterone. During your fertile years this prepares your body for pregnancy. But progesterone also relaxes the sphincter muscle in your oesophagus and can cause your heartburn. It’s certainly worth keeping a journal and check the connection between your menstrual cycle, your fertile days and any severe heartburn symptoms during those days.
In pregnancy progesterone is produced to help muscles relax. This is a common problem because the sphincter at the bottom of the oesophagus also relaxes. Increased heartburn as pregnancy progresses is actually very common. The baby’s position shifts and as the baby grows, space becomes limited with stomach contents often forced upwards.
During peri-menopause some of your female hormones decline. This reduction can cause functions in the body to become less efficient, and unfortunately the processes that deal with digestion and heartburn succumb to this readily.
9. Deal With Stress
The main, and sometimes only, stress that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were under was getting enough food. Their finely honed fight or flight reaction was only needed for short bursts, but today we seem to suffer from longer term stresses with finances and jobs being key factors. Our digestion isn’t up to handling these, so often gives us heartburn as a reaction to being under longer-term pressures.
As well as stomach acid levels decreasing as we get older, it can also lower during times of stress. If the stress is continually there, then you will have trouble absorbing nutrients from your food and heartburn will begin.
To help combat this, and settle heartburn down, you might like to try some relaxation and meditation techniques, getting outside to increase your vitamin D levels, or taking some gentle exercise.
Try taking low-dose antacids (short term only) if dietary changes are problematic as these neutralise stomach acid and you don’t want to end up with low acid and the associated problems. These over-the-counter treatments are widely available to reduce the pain of heartburn.
If these stop working as effectively, then the next step up is to try drugs containing ranitidine. Known as H2 blockers, these reduce the amount of acid produced. However, these are not really suitable for you if you have low stomach acid. You are in a bit of a catch 22 situation here as you don’t really know if your heartburn is due to low stomach acid and there is no definitive test to show this.
The strongest medication for heartburn is from Proton Pump Inhibitors such as Omeprazole and Lansoprazole. Your GP will prescribe a low dose PPI if over-the-counter antacids stop being effective. These should be taken for approx 8 weeks to give the oesophagus time to rest and heal.
You should be monitored carefully as PPI’s suppress the production of stomach acid and are generally prescribed after an endoscopy investigation to dismiss any other underlying medical conditions.
Although not pleasant, an endoscopy is a simple procedure. It wasn’t until I suffered from heartburn for 18 years that I requested my first one, and my problems were identified.
Be aware that taking PPI’s on a long term basis can lead to more and more heartburn. They can affect the absorption of nutrients from your food, and there is some debate about their effect on the balance of bacteria in the gut.
There has been concern shown over the fact that long-term use (over a year) of PPI’s could contribute towards fractures (particularly in the bones of those who smoke).
In addition, lower levels of calcium, iron, B12 and magnesium have been shown in users of PPI’s over a longer term.
Home and self-help treatments
These home treatments can’t ‘cure’ heartburn but they can definitely soothe your symptoms:
- Bicarbonate of soda in water is a natural remedy for heartburn that my grandmother used to take, and one that seems to have gone out of fashion, but is actually reasonably effective. It works as an antacid by neutralising acidity in your stomach, giving fairly rapid relief for heartburn pain. The recommended dose is 1 teaspoon of bicarb to a glass of water. Sip this slowly.
- Ginger is an anti-inflammatory so try it in a herbal tea or in warm water (with a little honey if needed) when you’re suffering from painful symptoms.
- Liquorice increases mucus, so eating it can help protect the oesophagus from acid by coating it with the extra mucus produced.
- Potato juice (more common in Switzerland and Germany than in the UK), has been used as a remedy for stomach problems for a number of years. It is said to have antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antacid properties which are soothing in terms of pain from heartburn. As this is a newer treatment, further research is needed. However, initial, small scale studies are showing encouraging benefits.
- Herbal remedies – bitter foods from herbs such as dandelion.
Always discuss your heartburn with your GP or pharmacist before self-diagnosing and taking medications or supplements.
There are several natural supplements that can help you to fight heartburn. My personal favourites being liquorice because of its coating of the gullet and Inulin powder because of its prebiotic properties.
It’s a good idea to try and avoid heartburn flare-ups rather than trying to deal with the issue once an attack is underway. If you know before you go out for a meal or a celebration that you might overindulge for example, you know that ultimately you will pay the price for the excesses and look for ways to calm down the burning pain.
Digestive bitters can help. Try 20 drops of Digestisan, 3 times a day before meals. It needs to be taken in a very small amount of water and will taste bitter. It will help your stomach and tackle indigestion, bloating and the trapped wind feeling. Ingredients in Digestisan include artichoke, dandelion and peppermint that all help with the discomfort you feel.
If you also suffer from IBS as well as heartburn it is worth trying Silicol Gel alongside Digestisan. It contains silicic acid which protects your digestive tract and reduces symptoms such as nausea, stomach pains and diarrhoea. As the gel coats the digestive tract it reduces any damage caused by stomach acid.
It is also worth increasing your vitamin D intake to support your immune system, and to keep the likelihood of contracting infections low.
Research in 2009 found that damage to gastric areas caused by H-Pylori could be helped by getting more of an amino acid called glutamine. This is found in protein foods particularly; chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products. Some fruit and vegetables also have good amounts of glutamine. Increasing these could be a good choice for those who suspect their dietary choices are a contributory factor in the heartburn pain.
Should you decide that your diet is lacking in these foods you can buy L-glutamine as a supplement. L-glutamine amino acids are needed for your body to function. This product can be bought in a powder form to add to water (or a smoothie), or as capsules.
L-glutamine can protect the lining of the bowel and intestinal barrier. You need to be aware of potential side effects and drug interactions, including swelling of the extremities, so discuss taking this supplement with your GP in the first instance.
B vitamins can help in reducing your heartburn risk and the symptoms, with folic acid in particular being really useful in reducing acid reflux considerably.
If you have low levels of vitamin B2 and B6 you are also classed as being at risk of having heartburn and acid reflux. Increase your levels of foods such as spinach, (in fact all leafy green vegetables), asparagus, beans and liver (current advice is to avoid liver if you are pregnant).
If heartburn is having a massive impact on your enjoyment of life or if you feel it is so severe that it is ruining your life then you need to take action and follow some or even all of the natural methods outlined above. Adjusting your eating patterns and lifestyle can help you to manage it better. Moderation is often very helpful so something as simple as avoiding overindulgence can help enormously.
Keep a journal (either paper or online) to track what you eat and do that sets off your heartburn or makes your symptoms worse. Listen to what your body tells you and write down what foods you eat, where you ate it and the time you ate it. Identify any patterns then address these or make alterations to your diet and lifestyle. Track for at least 21 days so that you can see which food groups (eg dairy, carbs) or activities have caused you problems.
Eliminating some foods that you identify as being your heartburn triggers may work for one person but not for another, so expect a lot of trial and error. It is difficult to give definitive information which is why it is vital to keep a journal. Bear in mind that at the very least, keeping a journal is a useful tool for discussions with your GP or gastroenterologist when deciding on a treatment plan.
Raising the head of your bed by 4-6 inches can reduce your symptoms. If this isn’t possible then try using an extra pillow. Sleep should be better and hopefully uninterrupted as a result.
Lifestyle changes really can help, and help quite quickly too, so that you don’t need to rely on medication. Remember, all drugs come with potential side effects.
You need to take control and responsibility over what you eat and what activities you do or don’t do. At the very least you can help yourself by trialling some changes.
Stomach acid is not a foe to fight because you really do need it. It deals with your unfriendly bacteria, breaks down and processes the food you eat and absorbs the nutrients your body requires. If there is not enough stomach acid you won’t get enough nutrients and then end up with heartburn. Low stomach acid not only causes heartburn issues but also doesn’t allow macronutrients that you need for energy, and micronutrients you need, to support your health to flourish.
However, what you do need is for your stomach acid to stay exactly where it should be – in your stomach. A healthy and strong oesophageal sphincter supports this.