The first time you get heartburn, you know you'll never forget it. It feels like your throat is on fire -- because it sort of is. So how do you put out the flames?
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn is the result of stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. This occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter is not opening and closing properly, regulating the food and liquid that enters the stomach. The result is a burning sensation, located just behind the breastbone as acid rises, sometimes as high as your vocal chords.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the foods and drinks that can bring on heartburn are: Alcohol, vinegar, black pepper, tomato sauce, chocolate, soft drinks, coffee, fatty or fried foods, peppermint, orange juice, ketchup, mustard and onions. You don't have to avoid these foods entirely -- there are some pretty great ones in there -- just eat them in moderation and make sure you give them plenty of time to digest properly.
Frequent heartburn can also be a sign of more serious health issues, like esophageal cancer. Make sure to see your doctor if you are experiencing frequent heartburn that is not resolved by changes to your lifestyle and diet.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications can help relieve and prevent heartburn, but they are not intended for long term use, many up to eight weeks at the longest. Using these medications for an extended period of time can lead to weak bones or osteoporosis
. But there are some natural alternatives to help prevent and soothe heartburn:
Whether eaten or taken as a supplement, fennel promotes overall digestive health. This herb has soothing effects that can ease symptoms of heartburn while reducing the amount of acid and inflammation causing the discomfort.
The antioxidants and polysaccharides in this herb help to absorb excess stomach acid and prevent tissue damage from the acid within the gastrointestinal tract. Slippery elm also fights off free radicals.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) can help with digestive issues caused by inflammation or bacteria. Removing the glycyrrhizin -- the compound that creates the sweetness -- from the licorice root prevents symptoms like bloating or raised blood pressure. When taken in combination with other herbs or on its own, licorice can help reduce the reflux of stomach acid.
These herbs are available in capsule and chewable form, some also in liquid form. When shopping for a supplement, look for capsules that are enteric coated -- this coating makes them easier to digest and better shielded from stomach acid. Follow dosing instructions carefully, as some are intended as a daily supplement while others should be taken with the onset of symptoms.
More Ways to Prevent Heartburn
On the April 25 episode of "The Doctors," guest Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, author of The Acid Reflux Solution
, shared some lifestyle tips that can help you eliminate your heartburn and avoid prescription medications. In addition to eating a balanced diet and quitting smoking, here's what he recommends:
Stay awake -- Try to avoid eating before bed or taking a nap right after eating. Try not to eat anything three hours before bed.
Elevate -- If you lay down soon after having a meal, make sure your entire upper half is elevated, not just your head.
Portion control -- Stick to smaller meals eaten closer together.
Regulate alcohol -- If you want to enjoy a drink at mealtime, have it before or after you eat.
Chew, chew, chew -- The smaller the food pieces are, the easier they are to digest, and be sure to take your time.
Let it out -- Literally, loosen your belt. You may not want to accept your true waist measurement, but you can help shrink it by not restricting your digestion.
Posture -- Be sure to sit up straight when eating and after meals. Being hunched over makes acid enter the esophagus.
Get moving -- Try a physical activity after eating, but nothing too extreme. A simple walk after eating is better than lounging.
Calm down -- Stress triggers acid production which can lead to reflux. Do what you can to reduce stressors in your daily routine. You can try aromatherapy, massage or even just listening to music.
Stay hydrated -- Drink water like you're being paid for it. Enough said.
These solutions can help you prevent and relieve heartburn without daily medication. With a healthy diet and exercise, you'll turn down the heat in no time.