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Can Heartburn Be Cured with the Right Diet?

Recurring waves of discomfort, that all-too-familiar acidic aftertaste, and the undeniable feeling of a small fire in your chest — that’s heartburn for you. 

It’s an occasional nuisance for millions, but for others, it’s a far more persistent and disruptive problem. While over-the-counter medications have long been the go-to for many sufferers, insight is growing into a more holistic approach to heartburn management. Could the answer to this burning question be as close as your next meal?

Dr. Darien Gaston at Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, explains how and why diet changes can calm your heartburn.

Understanding heartburn

Before we tackle the dietary implications, it’s important to understand what heartburn is and why it happens. 

Heartburn is a symptom, not a condition, resulting from acid reflux. When stomach acid splashes up into your esophagus, the lining can’t handle it like your stomach can. The result is a burning sensation. Since your esophagus is close to your heart, the symptom picked up the nickname “heartburn.” 

The role of diet in managing heartburn

Some foods are “trigger foods” that relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing more stomach acid to escape into the esophagus. Other foods known for their anti-inflammatory properties can calm an upset stomach.

The bottom line is that what you eat can either cause or calm your heartburn. The GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) diet is a great place to start. Here are the highlights.

Foods that trigger heartburn

If you had to keep a heartburn blacklist in your kitchen, it would feature:

You don’t have to give these items up forever, but avoiding them when possible can give you a break from heartburn.

Foods that help alleviate heartburn

On the other side of the spectrum, some foods can be an ally in your fight against heartburn. Think of:

Once again, a balanced diet is the best foundation for overall health.

Lifestyle changes for heartburn relief

Changing your diet isn’t the only lifestyle factor that could impact heartburn. Other key aspects include weight, stress, and sleep. 

Weight and heartburn

Maintaining a healthy weight is critical for those dealing with chronic heartburn. Obesity increases the likelihood of developing heartburn due to the increased pressure on the abdomen. Engaging in moderate physical activity can aid in weight management and, interestingly, reduce heartburn symptoms.

Stress and heartburn

Chronic stress can weaken your body’s defenses, making it more susceptible to various discomforts, including heartburn. When it comes to stress management, dietary changes are important, but so is a comprehensive strategy that includes coping mechanisms such as mindfulness and relaxation.

Stress also often leads to overeating or poor food choices, both of which are heartburn triggers. 

Sleep and heartburn

The effects of gravity and your body’s natural digestive processes make heartburn more likely during the night. To reduce the occurrence of nighttime heartburn, try to eat your last meal of the day 2-3 hours before bed and sleep with your head elevated.

Practical tips and dietary guidelines for heartburn

We’ve already mentioned that certain foods can trigger heartburn, but what does that look like in your shopping cart or on your plate? And what are some practical ways to implement these dietary changes without feeling like you’re on a perennial diet?

Portion control and meal timing

Overeating can put undue pressure on your stomach, leading to the backflow of acids. Smaller, more frequent meals can help prevent this. Aim for at least three hours between your last meal and bedtime to allow your food to begin digestion.

Specific food recommendations and restrictions

Here’s your cheat sheet: Avoid large amounts of oils and fats, choose lean meats and plant-based proteins whenever possible, and opt for grains and cereals as your carbohydrate sources, steering clear of heavily processed foods.

Write it down

Keeping a dietary strategy that works to curb your heartburn symptoms involves a bit of self-discovery and meal planning. Consider keeping a food diary and noting what you’ve eaten before experiencing heartburn. Pattern recognition is your greatest ally in crafting a diet that’s both heartburn-friendly and satisfying.

If heartburn still plagues you despite these efforts, Dr. Gaston can help. He may prescribe prescription medications or recommend heartburn surgery to resolve your symptoms for good.

Call Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants to schedule an appointment with Dr. Gaston and find out if a few diet changes can solve your heartburn issues.

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