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Battling Chronic Heartburn


QUESTION:

I've been struggling with heartburn over the last year.  I am taking some over-the-counter medication but would also like to fight it with non-medication approaches.  Do you have any suggestions?

ANSWER:

Chronic heartburn or GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) often responds well to simple lifestyle changes.  In addition to medication, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding acidic trigger foods can be extremely helpful in controlling heartburn.  Excess weight can put strain on the digestive organs so if you are overweight, realize that weight loss can be one step to ease your struggle with heartburn.  Nicotine can also irritate your stomach and digestive system so quit smoking if you're a smoker.  Easier said than done I know, but heartburn can be miserable so this may be one more motivating factor for you to give up those cigarettes.

Simple habits such as eating slowly and not overeating can also be tremendously helpful in reducing heartburn.  Take the time to thoroughly chew your food, relax and enjoy your meal.  In addition, don't eat right before bed or before exercise.  Both lying down and the bouncing of exercise can cause the digestive acids in your stomach to come back up into the esophagus.  Elevating your head by 4 to 6 inches during sleep utilizes gravity to keep the stomach acid where it belongs - in the stomach.  You can achieve this by using an extra pillow or placing an object under the mattress or bed.

Lastly, take the time to identify which foods trigger heartburn for you as this can vary from person to person.  Common foods that trigger heartburn are spicy foods, fatty foods, alcohol, whole milk, onions, coffee, mints (spearmint, peppermint), chocolate, carbonated beverages, and acidic foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes.

If you haven't already, make sure that you discuss your heartburn with your healthcare provider.  Chronic heartburn can result in serious health complications if left untreated.

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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