Heartburn – lots of us get it, but how do we stop getting it? For some, it’s little purple pill or a swig of a vile pink potion, while others just grit their teeth and bear it. Unfortunately, neither tactic solves the problem or prevents future episodes.
Fortunately though, heartburn is very treatable and all of us have the power to stop the fire before it starts – without drugs, potions or unpleasant side effects.
Where to begin? Start with a few key dietary and lifestyle changes to start soothing your intestinal system so you can steer it back to a healthy, heartburn-free track.
Here are 9 ways to start banishing the burn:
1. Quit the heartburn meds.
I kid you not – this is the first step. Contrary to what you might think, heartburn drugs tend to do more harm than good. While there’s no denying they help reduce stomach acid, the problem is that the meds also stop the acid from doing the digestive work it’s supposed to do.
Though heartburn gives stomach acid a bad name, acid is essential to digestion!
- It helps break down food and stimulates the digestive enzymes in your small intestine
- It helps keep the balance of good and bad bacteria in check
- It's your primary defense against food-borne infections
- It helps your gut absorb essential nutrients.
When you suppress acid production with heartburn drugs, you’re inhibiting digestion, preventing absorption of vitamins and nutrients and all but wiping out the good gut bacteria your gut needs to keep your immune system strong. You’re also setting the stage for damage to the intestinal lining – yikes! Not a great trade off, eh?
And please be aware when you stop these heartburn medications cold turkey, you get a rebound effect with the heartburn becoming more severe initially very often. So taper off them slowly preferably under the supervision of a knowledgeable practitioner.
2. Stop smoking.
There are hundreds of reasons to stop smoking and heartburn is one of them. Smoking irritates the membranes of the throat and esophagus — just about the last thing you should be doing if you have reflux or heartburn. What’s more – nicotine weakens the esophageal valve, allowing acid to flow back up causing irritation and burn. So if you want to stop the burn, kick the butts.
3. Hold the jalapeños.
Instead of popping pills to put out the fire, give your digestive tract a vacation from high acid foods that irritate tender tissues. A few common acidic culprits include coffee, alcohol, garlic, peppers, onions, tomatoes, orange juice and spicy foods.
To help my patients identify their heartburn triggers, I ask them to keep a food diary and monitor how their body reacts to high acid foods, so they get a better sense as to which ones are causing their heat and which ones aren’t. For those with more stubborn cases, I also recommend trying my Cleanse diet, which eliminates the common foods that fuel the burn.
4. Drink Swedish bitters.
All that heartburn pill-popping will over time deplete your body of the natural acids that are essential for proper digestion. To stimulate your body’s own production of digestive acids, I recommend 1 to 3 tablespoons of Swedish bitters (it's an herbal tonic) stirred into an 8-ounce glass of water. Drink 15 minutes before eating to get digestive juices flowing and aid in healthy digestion.
5. Linger over breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Every millimeter of your digestive tract – starting with chewing in your mouth – aids in digestion. Acid-neutralizing saliva paves the way for a painless journey of food into the stomach. When you eat quickly, don’t chew enough, or gulp your food, you miss out on critical steps, setting the stage for heartburn and indigestion. So take your time, savor each bite and enjoy!
6. Lighten your mealtime load.
The more food that’s in your belly, the longer it takes to digest and the more likely it will reflux. Eating several smaller meals throughout the day will be easier on your digestive tract than bombarding it with three big ones. And at the end of the day, try to put two to three hours between your evening meal and bedtime so that digestion is well underway before you lie down for the night.
7. Skip the Spanx and say bye-bye to skinny jeans.
Resist the urge to squish yourself into super skinny jeans if heartburn is an issue. In other words, give your belly room to digest. Tight clothes can put pressure on your stomach, pressing food back up into your esophagus.
8. Sleep on a slope.
When you lie down flat, stomach acid remains in the esophagus longer than it should, giving rise to that burning feeling. Lying down can also lead to inflammation of the esophagus, a potentially dangerous condition. A simple way to avoid the problem: let gravity do the work of keeping the acid in your stomach at night – simply sleep on a slight slope. All you need to do is slightly elevate your head and chest with an extra pillow or rolled up towel. The slight downward angle will help keep acid where it belongs – in your stomach!
9. Give your gut a helping hand.
If you’re going to combat heartburn, keep in mind that an unbalanced, irritated, poorly functioning gut can’t quite do it on it’s own – it needs a helping hand – and restoring the microflora and repopulating the gut with good bacteria is the starting point. Using herbal anti-microbials (to kill the bad guys) and probiotics (to replenish the good guys) will help return gut microflora to a balanced state. Add to that botanicals and extra nutrients to help protect your GI tract, ease digestion, repair the lining of the gut and prevent heartburn. (I recommend my Beat the Burn Plan, which is designed to restore a healthy balance of bacteria and repair the lining of the gut.)