Thursday, March 17, 2011

7 Healthy Habits for Heartburn Sufferers

Heartburn is not only painful but can be plain annoying!  We all get it at some point in time, some people just seem to suffer more with it. 
Over-the-counter antacids and prescription medications are the most common treatments for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)  .It is a complaint I hear from clients quite frequently so I thought it would be prudent to offer some suggestions to wean yourself off those antacids (not good to use long term!).  By following these steps on a daily basis you can minimize or eliminate those annoying gastro problems.  Regardless of how bad your GERD symptoms are, successfully fighting it requires some changes in lifestyle -ranging from the food you eat to the clothes you wear.

If you stick to them every day, these seven habits may help minimize GERD symptoms.
  1.  Small, frequent meals (yes, the right kind of snacking is GOOD!) - A very full stomach can cause the valve between your stomach and esophagus to relax, pushing stomach acids back up into the esophagus.  Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than the standard 3 big meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Don’t make that last meal too late, though: Eating close to bedtime can trigger symptoms as well.)
  2. Avoid "trigger" foods (check out my blog recipes or my recipe books - good food doesn't have to be boring and tasteless!) Be it chocolate or caffeine, certain foods and drinks are notorious for exacerbating GERD symptoms.  The list includes spicy foods, fatty red meat, French fries (and other fried foods), citrus fruit, raw onion, tomatoes, butter, oil, peppermint, chocolate and caffeine.  I am not saying you should avoid all of them, but take note which ones may cause problems for YOU!
  3. Back off the Alcohol (heavy sigh...) - Alcohol is a bad idea for most people with GERD, especially if you drink too much, or on a regular basis. Alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, which lets stomach acid creep into the esophagus.  A 1999 study showed that those who imbibed more than seven drinks per week were the most likely to have heartburn.
  4. Shed some Pounds (you knew I would work that in there somewhere...didn't you???) - Excess weight can contribute to heartburn and acid reflux. A 2003 study of more than 10,000 people found a strong link between GERD symptoms and body mass index (BMI). Obese people are nearly three times more likely than people of normal weight to have heartburn and acid reflux.  Experts aren’t exactly sure why. Excess abdominal fat may place pressure on the stomach, but it may also cause chemical or hormonal changes that make the body more susceptible.
  5. Loosen those Waistbands (closely related to #4... smile...) -  Much like excess belly fat, clothing that's a tight fit around the midsection can push against your stomach and force acid into the esophagus. Sure those pants look great, but is it worth it? If you have heartburn, skip belts, waistbands, hosiery and undergarments that may be too tight or, if the shoe fits...refer to #4!
  6.  Heads Up while you Sleep (ok...c'mon, you KNOW what I'm talking about...)- Avoid eating before bedtime and elevate your head six to eight inches while you sleep.This position doesn’t necessarily reduce the frequency of acid reflux, but research shows it helps stomach acid drain from the esophagus more quickly. One study reported a 67% increase in acid clearance time.
  7. Quit Smoking (need I say more??) -  We know that smoking damages your heart and lungs. But what about your digestive system? Yep, that too. Nicotine, like alcohol, may worsen GERD symptoms by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter, which causes stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.  Smoking also causes bile salts to migrate from the small intestine into the stomach and reduces the amount of saliva you produce. (Saliva helps flush stomach acid out of the esophagus). Combine smoking with any of the other above mentioned habits and you get a double-whammy of possible sympton triggers.

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