What is heartburn? How does it relate to hiatal hernia and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)? What kind of diet is ideal for treating digestive diseases connected to heartburn? Dietitian and nutritional expert Linda Smyth describes the problems and offers some solutions.
An estimated 15 million Americans have heartburn every day, and 60 million do so once a month. Heartburn is a common digestive ailment. Although medication (such as antacids) is normally required if the heartburn is caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease, minor heartburn can typically be relieved with dietary and lifestyle adjustments (GERD).
What is Heartburn? What Are The Symptoms?
Heartburn is an issue with your digestion; it is unrelated to your heart. Small quantities of stomach acid may unintentionally leak into the esophagus, which runs from the mouth to the stomach. This results in symptoms like a burning discomfort in the chest that travels up to the neck. This condition, known as acid indigestion, can cause sufferers to even taste the liquid in the back of their tongue. Although the pain and burning feelings are frequently rather modest, they can occasionally be so intense that patients mistake them for a heart attack.
What Are The Causes Of Heartburn?
The acidic digestive acids that leave the stomach and climb up the esophagus are usually the direct cause of heartburn. The illness known as esophagitis is brought on by the acid burning of the esophageal tissue, which results in discomfort and inflammation. When the baby is pressing up on the diaphragm's bottom and compressing the stomach, heartburn can also happen during pregnancy. It's very common to experience an occasional attack of indigestion or acid reflux. However, frequent heartburn (such as twice weekly) is typically an indication of something more severe. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and hiatal hernia are the two most often occurring underlying causes of heartburn symptoms.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Failure of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle valve at the base of the esophagus, is a defining feature of GERD. This valve's job is to keep stomach acid in the stomach and stop it from seeping back up into the esophagus. Heartburn and reflux (leak-back) can happen when this valve isn't functioning properly. Obesity, pregnancy, smoking, and, in particular, a hiatal hernia, are risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease.
In a condition known as a hiatus or hiatal hernia, a portion of the stomach protrudes into the chest via the diaphragm's hiatus, which is usually exclusively occupied by the esophagus. This increases the pressure on the LES valve and prevents proper closure. As a result, heartburn is brought on by stomach acid leaking into the esophagus. The Hiatal hernia's underlying etiology is unclear. Obesity, pregnancy, constipation, abdominal muscular tension, and smoking are all contributing causes.
Dietary Treatment For Heartburn
Dietary changes alone are insufficient for people who have recurrent heartburn. Your doctor may advise one or more of the following drug classes in addition to recommending a diet that is easy on the digestive system. Proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers to lessen acid production, prokinetics to tighten the lower esophageal sphincter and hasten stomach emptying, and antacids to neutralize stomach acid. However, if your heartburn symptoms are minor and only seldom occur, your doctor would likely urge you to make the following dietary modifications.
If Overweight, Switch To A Healthy Weight Loss Diet
Obesity, particularly extra body fat on the chest and belly, is a significant cause of GERD, hiatal hernia, and heartburn. Take action to normalize your weight if you are obese (BMI > 30) in order to lessen your chance of developing heartburn and its symptoms. Adopt a wholesome, calorie-restricted diet that you may personalize by adhering to the dietary advice listed below.
Stop Eating Large Meals
Large meals stretch the stomach and increase stomach acid production. These two elements raise the risk of heartburn. Choose 4-6 small meals or snacks instead, and space meals out by no more than 3 hours. Additionally, pick foods that are simpler to digest and "easy on the stomach."
Avoid Acidic Food
Avoiding foods like tomatoes, tomato-based sauces, citrus fruits, rhubarb, gooseberries, underripe fruit, vinegar, and acidic pickles or relishes will help you consume less highly acidic foods.
Cut Down On Fatty and Spicy Food
Candy and other fried or very fatty foods promote dyspepsia and should be avoided or consumed in moderation. So cut back on the use of butter, mayonnaise, full-fat cheese, sausage, salami, and pate. The same holds true for really hot foods like those that contain raw onions, garlic, and chili peppers, as well as black pepper, curry, mustard, and other strong spices.
Avoid Carbonated Drinks
The probability of heartburn is increased by belching and upward pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) caused by fizzy or carbonated soft beverages. Water, herbal teas, or diluted non-citrus fruit juices are the finest beverages. Please be aware that some soft beverages, such as chocolate, coffee, and orange juice, might overly relax the LES, which encourages the backward passage of stomach acid.
Eat More Fiber, Especially Soluble Fiber
Heartburn risk and stomach muscular tension can both be exacerbated by constipation. Eat additional high-fiber meals like oats, apples, pears, dried apricots, and veggies to avoid constipation. It's crucial to drink water at least 40 ounces more each day when boosting your fiber consumption.
Reduce your alcohol intake
Because of a number of factors, alcohol does not relieve heartburn. Therefore, take action to cut your intake to one unit per day or abstain completely. Alcohol is a source of empty calories and can make people gain weight.
Various Additional Tips
Some dietitians and alternative health practitioners advise patients to consume (or cook with) digestive-friendly aromatic herbs including basil, camomile, caraway, dill, fennel, rosemary, and thyme for gastrointestinal issues like heartburn. In order to lessen acidity and wind, they also advise drinking a glass of herbal tea (such as camomile or fennel) at the conclusion of each meal.
Lifestyle Improvements To Reduce Heartburn
There are a number of lifestyle adjustments that might assist to lessen heartburn symptoms. The most apparent one is to give up smoking, as it makes the stomach more acidic. Other adjustments that are suggested include:
Do not exert further pressure on your chest or abdomen. Do not overstretch or carry large objects, and wear loose-fitting clothing.
After eating, avoid lying down, and wait at least three hours before going to bed without eating. Heartburn is less likely to occur if your stomach is empty when you go to lie down.
Use bed blocks or place a sturdy item beneath the bed legs to elevate the head end of the bed by about 3 inches to reduce nighttime pain. This aids in stopping the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. Use fewer pillows; more cushions just cause heartburn and a stiff neck.
Certain over-the-counter medications, including aspirin and other painkillers or anti-inflammatories, might aggravate heartburn symptoms. Therefore, if you routinely use this kind of medication, confirm with your doctor or pharmacist that doing so is safe.