Heartburn. You have probably experienced that uncomfortable burning sensation behind your chest a time or two in your lifetime. Or, maybe, you are unlucky enough to experience it on a regular enough basis that it is negatively impacting the quality of your life.
For most people, this unpleasant condition is little more than a passing annoyance. However, for some people, it can be a symptom of a more severe condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition characterized by weakness of the muscle valve that closes off the esophagus from the stomach (lower esophageal sphincter) and a backwash of stomach acid into the esophagus, causing irritation and the resultant sensation of heartburn.
Although many people use medication to control reflux symptoms, sometimes the answer to the resolution of your heartburn is available right in your kitchen pantry. Here are seven simple ways to deal with heartburn at home:
1. Limit intake of trigger foods
Different types of food trigger heartburn by different mechanisms. Fatty foods, for example, delay gastric emptying and decrease lower esophageal sphincter tone. This means food is more likely to stay longer in your stomach, which triggers your body to produce more stomach acid to digest it. The weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter also means this excess acid can then backflow into your esophagus, causing heartburn.
Other foods that weaken the lower esophageal sphincter include alcoholic beverages, caffeinated drinks, carbonated drinks, peppermint, garlic, onions, and chocolate.
Highly acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits can also be a trigger as they increase the gastric acid content.
Reducing your intake of these trigger foods can help ameliorate the frequency of heartburn.
2. Increase intake of fiber
Low dietary fiber intake is linked with decreased gut motility and delayed gastric emptying, which contributes to heartburn and GERD. High fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and wholegrain reduce acid reflux largely due to fiber’s quality as a digestive aid.
Fiber absorbs stomach acid, preventing its displacement into the esophagus. It also binds to nitric oxide in food, diminishing its negative effects on lower esophageal sphincter tone. It generally increases gut motility and speeds up gastric emptying, reducing the risk of reflux.
3. Avoid lying down immediately after meals
Your body automatically produces more stomach acid every time you eat. If you lie down immediately after a meal, being in a horizontal position makes the gastric contents settle closer to the lower esophageal sphincter, making it easier for stomach acid to backwash into the esophagus.
If you must lie down after a meal, prop yourself up in a recumbent position by elevating the head of your bed.
4. Eat smaller frequent meals
Avoid having large meals as eating too much can stretch out your stomach and apply pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter, causing it to weaken and allowing acid to backflow into the esophagus.
Instead, have several small meals spread out through the day, and avoid eating right before you go to bed.
5. Drink yoghurt
Yoghurt can be a good remedy for heartburn because it soothes the irritated esophagus and acts as a physical buffer between the stomach acid and your delicate esophageal mucosa. It is also a good source of protein, and a great probiotic, meaning it helps maintain the balance of healthy microbes or bacteria in your gut, helping with overall gut health.
6. Eat a banana
Bananas are another great immediate remedy for heartburn. Because of their alkaline content, they help neutralize stomach acid. They also act as a physical buffer between the acid and your esophageal lining.
Bananas also contain pectin, a soluble fiber that is great for gut motility and gastric emptying. Other alkaline foods that can have similar benefits include melons, cauliflower, and almonds.
7. Drink a cup of ginger tea
Another alkaline food with several health benefits, a cup of ginger tea might be just what you need to help you deal with that nasty episode of heartburn.
Not only does ginger help neutralize stomach acid, it also has anti-inflammatory effects, which can help relieve the pain that comes with gastroesophageal irritation. It also helps ease nausea, which is a common symptom for many people suffering from acid reflux.
While it is great to have knowledge of the ways you can combat heartburn at home, it is still important to see your general practitioner about it, particularly if you have frequent episodes, as it could be a sign of the more severe gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Innocent Immaculate Acan is a medical doctor and writer. She won the Writivism Short Story Prize in 2016 and has published an illustrated children’s book titled The Pearl Trotters in Black, Yellow, Red. She was part of the 2018 class of the Young and Emerging Leaders Project.