During the holidays, I always get heartburn. What is heartburn, what causes it, and how can I prevent it naturally?
The term “heartburn” is a misnomer, because it doesn’t involve the heart; it occurs when stomach acids are regurgitated, causing irritation to the esophagus. There is, however, a “burn” – the sensation in the lower chest, below the breast bone, known as heartburn. People with heartburn may experience other symptoms, such as a bitter taste in the mouth, a dry, nagging cough, hoarseness, or a feeling that food is stuck in the chest or throat.
Occasional heartburn is not dangerous, but if chronic it can lead to the condition known as gastro-esophageal reflux disease. Statistics show that 10% of Americans experience heartburn on a daily basis, 30% have heartburn occasionally, and 50% of pregnant women suffer from it.
The cause of heartburn is an under-active lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When you eat, food leaves your mouth and travels down the esophagus to the stomach, where the LES closes to prevent stomach acids from refluxing upward. A weak LES allows gastric contents to move up into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn.
Heartburn is common in people who overeat, and those who live stressful lives, eat on the run, or eat too late at night. It can also occur if there is excessive pressure on the stomach from obesity, or from tight clothing.
A number of dietary and lifestyle factors can make heartburn more likely. These include ingesting coffee, alcohol, tomato products, citrus fruits, chocolate, mints, fatty foods, spicy foods, and onions, taking aspirin or ibuprofen, and smoking cigarettes.
According to conventional Western medicine, heartburn is the result of too much stomach acid, and antacids are typically prescribed. In both naturopathic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, heartburn is the result of an overburdened or weakened digestive system, and lifestyle changes are imperative to successful treatment.
How to Prevent Heartburn:
When eating, decrease your portion size. If you typically fill your plate, fill only half. If you’re still hungry after eating, go back for seconds but fill only a quarter of your plate.
Eat slowly, and chew carefully. If you eat quickly and “inhale” your food, you don’t have time to register that you’re full until you are too full. If you don’t chew your food well, your digestive system has to work harder.
Strengthen your digestive system by eating cooked foods, easily digested foods, or foods at room temperature.
Put a wedge-shaped pillow under your upper body when you sleep.
Avoid carbonated beverages.