Do You Have a Heartburn Problem? Try These 7 Natural Fixes
If you suffer from occasional heartburn, learn these seven steps, including losing weight and sleeping at an incline, that can give you relief.
Doctors know the primary suspect responsible for heartburn — that burning sensation behind your breastbone.
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“There are other causes, but for the majority of patients, it is acid refluxing up from the stomach into the esophagus,” says gastroenterologist Scott Gabbard, MD. “The main cause of the reflux is when the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve or ring of muscle between the stomach and the esophagus, opens when it’s not supposed to.”
Doctors are still studying how to prevent heartburn from happening in the first place, as well as ways to treat it when it does.
Here are 7 remedies that Dr. Gabbard recommends to prevent or reduce the occurrence of heartburn. The first two are the only lifestyle changes that have been proven effective in controlled trial studies to decrease reflux. The others are lifestyle changes you can make that seem to provide relief.
1. Lose weight. Even as little as a 10- to 15-pound weight loss can help some patients, according to Dr. Gabbard.
2. Sleep with at least a 9-inch incline. This means your head and neck are at least 9 inches above your stomach.
3. Eat smaller portions and lower fat meals. “Limiting meals to 500 calories and 15 grams of fat does seem to limit the amount that the sphincter opens, so staying below those values seems to be very good for patients who have heartburn after meals,” Dr. Gabbard says.
4. Don’t lie down within 3 hours of eating. Make sure that at least 3 hours have passed between your last meal and the time you lie down to go to sleep, especially if you’ve been experiencing nighttime heartburn. Your stomach needs 3 to 4 hours to empty the contents of a meal. Should you lie down before then, if that sphincter valve does open, there’s no gravity to prevent the stomach contents from moving into your esophagus.
5. Move! Get up and move around or go for a walk after a meal, rather than dropping on the couch immediately to watch several uninterrupted hours of TV.
6. Chew gum. Chewing gum can help stimulate saliva, Dr. Gabbard says, and saliva has a buffering effect against some of the acid in your esophagus.
7. Sleep on your left side. When you sleep on an incline, sleep on your left side. A study done at Cleveland Clinic 10 years ago showed that doing so separates any acidic stomach contents from the lower esophageal sphincter. Currently, Cleveland Clinic is studying a sleep positioning pillow that enables you to sleep at an incline on your left side.
While there is no FDA-approved medicine available to stop the sphincter muscle from opening, there are antacids that decrease the amount of acid in the stomach contents, so they do less damage if they do reach your esophagus.
In fact, there are several types of medicines available over the counter to treat heartburn. Medicines such as TUMS® neutralize acid. Other medicines such as Gaviscon® contain an ingredient that covers the acid so it can’t interact with the esophagus.
Additionally, medicines are available that decrease the amount of acid the stomach produces, either through histamine type 2 receptor antagonists such as Pepcid® or Zantac® or proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec OTC® and Nexium®.
“Obviously, patients who have frequent symptoms of heartburn should see their doctor to discuss if acid reflux is the cause or if there is another cause,” Dr. Gabbard advises.
TUMS® and Gaviscon® are registered trademarks of GlaxoSmithKline. Pepcid® is a registered trademark of McNeil Consumer Pharmaceuticals Co. Zantac® is a registered trademark of Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Prilosec OTC® is a registered trademark of Proctor & Gamble. Nexium® is a registered trademark of AstraZeneca.