By Kara Carper, MA, CNS, LN
October 11, 2016
10% of Americans have an episode of heartburn every day. Overall, acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) affect up to 35% of the population. As a result, acid-blocking medications are the third top-selling type of drug in America today. If you have irritating and uncomfortable bouts of heartburn read on for ideas on how to resolve it!
What is Heartburn & What Causes It?
Heartburn is the primary symptom of acid reflux or GERD, which is a more severe case of acid reflux. A painful or burning sensation radiates up from the stomach to the chest and throat, typically happening at night, especially after eating a large meal or when lying down. Other symptoms include hoarseness, feeling like food is stuck in the throat, wheezing, asthma and bad breath.
Most assume heartburn is from too much stomach acid when actually the opposite is true. In fact, Dr. Jonathon Wright, an expert on GERD at Tahoma Clinic, reported that in 25 years of conducting tests, he found very few people with excess stomach acid. He states, "When we carefully test people over age 40 who are having heartburn, over 90% of the time we find low stomach acid production."
If excess stomach acid is not the cause of heartburn and GERD, then what is? Next culprit is often assumed to be food. Common assumptions are spicy food, tomatoes, chocolate, fried food and coffee.
While it's possible that these could cause issues, the more likely culprits are chips and soda. Or pizza and beer. Candy bars and cookies. Pasta with bread. Cereal and milk. Are any of these foods part of your eating plan? The common ingredients in all of these foods and beverages are sugar and/or flour. So, to find relief from heartburn you must look at foods you consume with sugar and flour, and reduce or even eliminate them.
Eat This, Not That for Heartburn Relief
A friend of mine used to have heartburn so bad that she had to sleep on a recliner; sitting upright at night gave her relief from the burning and pain. But once she gave up eating bread, her heartburn vanished. It usually takes more than just giving up one food to cure heartburn, but eliminating bread would be a great place to start.
Is cereal with milk a typical breakfast for you? In its place, try having eggs and spinach cooked in butter with a piece of fruit. Wondering what to do on Friday nights after work without pizza and beer? Try a glass of wine with your dinner of steak, potato with butter, and green beans instead. If you don’t care for wine, your new beverage could be a sparkling water with fresh-squeezed lemon.
When your blood sugar gets low at work and you feel those mid-morning cravings approaching, don’t reach for the candy dish or visit the vending machine. Bring a healthy snack of almonds, string cheese, and an apple to work as an alternative.
Do you feel pressure at restaurants to eat what everyone else is eating? Instead of partaking in the bread basket right away, order a side salad. Also, avoid pasta-centered meals or batter-covered proteins and look for protein that is broiled, grilled, baked or seared. Ask for rice or potato if you want a starch.
Medications Are Not Long-Term Solutions
It can be overwhelming and maybe even scary to consider giving up some of your favorite foods. You may even be thinking to yourself that it would just be easier to keep taking your acid-blocking medication instead of changing your diet. After all, this is the most common treatment used for GERD. Heartburn medications like Tagamet®, Pepcid® and Zantac® neutralize stomach acid that is already there. Other brands used to treat heartburn are Prevacid®, Protonix®, Prilosec®, Nexium® and Aciphex® which block the stomach's production of acid.
The problem with this approach is that your body needs stomach acid to stay healthy and to digest food. You also need stomach acid to absorb important nutrients like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
When you're on medication long term, other serious issues arise such as osteoporosis, anemia, depression, fatigue, IBS, and even nerve damage and dementia, especially in the elderly. However, people are not often aware of these risks and take the drugs daily, sometimes for decades, though the medications often call for use of six to eight weeks max. Some doctors even recommend that their patients be on these acid blockers for life.
Does that sound familiar? Time for a healthier approach.
5 Steps to Beat Heartburn
Try the following five steps for a month and you should be on your way to heartburn relief.
- Reduce sugar and processed junk food—Sugar is a common cause of heartburn, and eating large amounts of processed foods and sugars will exacerbate it.
- Remove the gluten—It is estimated that one in three people has a gluten sensitivity. If you are one of those people and you have heartburn, the symptoms will not go away until gluten is removed from your diet. Gluten is found in wheat, oats, barley and rye. Learn more about going gluten free in our class Going Gluten Free the Healthy Way.
- Replace your carbohydrate sources—Eat lots of carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits instead of bread, pasta, cereal, crackers and baked goods.
- Repopulate your system with healthy bacteria—It's common to have a deficiency of good bacteria in the gut. A strain called acidophilus can be taken before bed in pill or powder form and is very helpful for soothing heartburn.
- Take a digestive enzyme with hydrochloric acid—Most people with heartburn do not produce enough stomach acid. Supplement with a digestive enzyme containing betaine hydrochloric acid. This will help your body to better digest your food and also addresses the issue of having too little stomach acid.