It’s celebration time, the family is gathered, and your dear Aunt is making sure everyone gets enough to eat. “An extra serving? Here’s a little more stuffing. Did you say you wanted pulao? Oh, you want the apple pie. Let me cut you a little slice – no, bigger than that.
Then the dishes are cleared and everyone stretches out in front of the TV – and you can almost hear the flames of heartburn crackling away.
Heartburn wouldn’t be a problem if it only occurred after overindulging. But for some people it happens all the time, and it can be extremely uncomfortable.
Despite the name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. It occurs when acid in the stomach, instead of staying put, splashed upstream into the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. While the stomach can withstand acid, the esophagus cannot. Each splash of acid scorches the delicate lining of the esophagus. That’s what causes the “burn” of heartburn.
The body normally does a good job of keeping acid where it belongs. There’s a tight little ring of muscled at the base o the esophagus that opens to let food into the stomach, then snaps shut to keep acid from surging upstream. In some people, however, the muscle either gets weak or opens and closes at the wrong time, causing heartburn.
Heartburn is rarely serious and can easily be treated at home with a few simple changes. Wash away the acid. One of the best ways to stop heartburn fast is simply to drink of glass of water. This helps dilute and wash away acid in the esophagus before it has a chance to burn. Drinking water with meals makes heartburn much less likely to occur.
Avoid high-fat foods. Studies have shown that chocolate, French fries, and other high-fat foods can cause the protective muscle in the esophagus to lose its grip, which allows the stomach acid to squirt upward.
Skip the breath mints . Peppermint and spearmint may freshen your breath, but they can also feed the fires of heartburn by weakening the “valve” in the esophagus. Smoking does the same thing, so having an after dinner cigarette can “burn” in more ways than one.
Eat a little less. It doesn’t take a holiday feast to cause heartburn. Any time you put a lot of food into the stomach, acid levels rise, making it much more likely to splash upstream. Eating smaller meals more often will helps keep acid levels in the stomach low and away from the esophagus.
Give yourself a raise . When you lie down after eating, gravity works against you, making it easier for acid in the stomach to enter the esophagus. Sitting upright for a few hours after meals will help keep the acid where it belongs. Some people find that propping themselves up with pillows when they sleep or raising the head of the bed can also help prevent heartburn.
Consider a diet . When you’re overweight there’s a lot more pressure on the abdomen, which can cause the muscle in the esophagus to lose its grip.
Schedule your midnight snacks for 8 pm . When you eat late at night the stomach produces acids that may linger long pest bedtime. Then, when you lie down, the acid is much more likely to creep upstream, causing heartburn and keeping you awake. It’s a good idea not to eat anything within a few hours of your bedtime.
Check your medicines. A number of prescription drugs, including birth control pills, antihistamines, and heart medications have been known to weaken the muscle in the esophagus. If you’re having heartburn, ask your doctor if medications may be responsible – and if changing drugs might help.