Feeling the Burn?
FIGURE OUT WHAT LIGHTS YOUR FIRE
A number of foods commonly trigger GERD, some by increasing stomach acid secretion, others by releasing chemicals that relax the LES. Identifying your triggers is crucial. “If you go out for a few drinks and Mexican food every Friday night and you then get heartburn—hello!” says Sierpina. When the triggers aren’t so clear, try the following:
GO ON AN ELIMINATION DIET
Start by cutting out fatty and spicy foods, coffee, carbonated drinks, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, citrus, onions, garlic, tomatoes and tomato-based products. Reintroduce them one by one until you find the culprit.
LOG WHAT YOU PUT IN YOUR MOUTH
If none of the foods listed above is the source of your symptoms, keep a diary of everything you ingest to identify what you should avoid. You might find it’s not even food but your migraine, osteoporosis or heart medication.
Coffee is a frequent culprit, but if you can’t stand to give it up, there’s good news: Scientists in Europe recently discovered that a chemical generated by dark-roasted coffee beans reduces acid production in the stomach. So counterintuitively, drinking espresso and French and Italian roasts will be easier on you. You can also drink low-acid coffee.
NIX THE CONSTANT NOSHING
How and when you eat is as important as what you eat. “We’re eating food on top of food,” says Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., creator of Future Health Now! Online Wellness Program. She recommends waiting four hours between meals to allow food to properly digest.
AVOID EATING AT NIGHT
Lying down with a full stomach facilitates reflux. Stop eating three or four hours before bedtime.
Digestion begins in the mouth. Saliva has a neutralizing effect on acid, and chewing food helps ready it for the stomach. When we bolt down meals, large chunks of food reach the stomach in an unprepared state that’s more likely to cause reflux. Make an effort to eat mindfully and sitting down.
CHEW SUGARLESS GUM
It generates saliva, and swallowing saliva helps your esophagus contract and propel food in the right direction. Sucking on hard candy can have the same effect. Avoid peppermint flavor, which can exacerbate heartburn.
COOL YOUR JETS
“Stress offsets the natural tendency for the intestines to contract and the sphincters to open in a synchronous way,” Sierpina says. Stress also increases your body’s output of the hormone cortisol, which in turn boosts acid production. Find a way to relax that works for you: meditation, deep breathing, listening to music, taking an art class. Tai chi is worth considering as it’s calming and provides gentle exercise while you remain upright; gravity is your friend when you have heartburn. And if you smoke because you find it relaxing, quit: It’s a heartburn trigger.
ADAPT YOUR WORKOUTS
Sit-ups, crunches and lifting heavy weights can exacerbate heartburn, as can yoga poses that require you to be inverted or folded at the waist. Wolf suggests not eating for two hours before exercising and possibly taking an over-thecounter antacid or acid blocker before hitting the gym, but talk to your doctor about it first. While you should avoid eating before doing any heavy exercise, “taking a walk after a big meal can help you digest it,” Sierpina says.