Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common complaint among patients I see. While you may consider it nothing more than an inconvenience after meals or before bed, it may actually be doing some serious damage to your esophagus.
Chronic GERD can lead to a number of problems, but the most worrisome is Barrett’s Esophagus which may lead to cancer of the esophagus. Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition in which the cells lining your esophagus actually change to become more like the cells in your stomach, which are able to handle the low pH created by the stomach acid. In the process of switching and trying to adapt to a more acidic environment, these cells may become cancerous.
For some, heartburn is related to diet. Try keeping a diet diary to help you identify foods that are giving you trouble. Pay attention to the specific foods below and see if you experience symptoms after eating them. Making dietary changes is a simple way to prevent heartburn. This list represents some of the most problematic foods for people who experience heartburn.
Foods that Aggravate Heartburn:
- Coffee (Caffeine in general)
- Refined carbohydrates (think white bread)
- Food you are allergic to
Another contributing factor to heartburn or GERD is low stomach acid. This seems counterintuitive, yes, but when the pH isn’t low enough the esophageal sphincter (the gate keeper between your stomach and your throat) doesn’t get the signal to close. As we age, many of us begin to see a decline in the amount of acid we produce. Vegetarians tend to have less stomach acid because less is required to break down vegetables as compared to meat. A low pH will optimize digestion and help keep your food in your stomach. Try these ideas to bring your stomach pH into a natural balance and effectively prevent heartburn.
Tips to Drop the pH (make more acid):
- Squeeze fresh lemon into a small amount of water and drink before meals
- Take ¼ tsp apple cider vinegar 20 minutes before meals
- Avoid drinking water with meals. This will not only dilute the acid, but also your enzymes for digestion.
- Take a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. It will burn initially, but will help decrease the amount of acid coming up from your stomach.
- Try chewing a piece of gum. This will increase saliva and buffer the acid.
- Drink coconut water or coconut water with aloe vera in it. Both neutralize acid. It is important to never ingest the aloe vera you use for sun burns. It is not the same and can have aggravating side effects.
- Drink a cup of ginger tea.
Nighttime Heartburn Relief:
- Change your meal size. Make breakfast the biggest and dinner the smallest.
- Avoid aggravating foods, especially after 3pm. The closer to bed, the more trouble they can cause because you won’t have gravity helping you keep stuff down.
- Give yourself at least 3 hours before bed to digest. Food left in your stomach may have more opportunity to make its way up once you lie down.
- Sleep with the head of your bed elevated.
There are many individualized diet and lifestyle factors that may contribute to your symptoms, including smoking, being overweight, stress and overall health. It’s worth investigating the specifics contributing to your heartburn.
Remember that heartburn may be a sign of a more serious condition. Even if it only seems like a small inconvenience, it is worth getting checked out. If you have heartburn, make an appointment with your doctor so that together you can identify what may be the underlying cause.
I invite you to schedule an appointment today to explore how Naturopathic Medicine can help in the treatment of heartburn and other digestive disorders.