Heartburn afflicts millions of Americans a day, often causing severe pain and discomfort. Digestive problems, such as heartburn, comprise the most common type of health problem in the U.S., and leads to the hospitalization of over 65 million people a year, according to statistics complied by the National Institutes of Health.
Even more troubling, the number of report cases of esophageal cancer related to heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease ranks as the fastest growing type of cancer in Western countries, according to a study from the University of Connecticut Health Center.
While many who suffer from severe heartburn take medication to help easy their condition, studies have shown that 75 percent of individuals who take conventional treatments for digestive problems continue experiencing symptoms of the disorder several times a week. So what then can people who suffer from either mild or severe heartburn do to help alleviate their symptoms? According to researchers, knowing what causes heartburn and what foods to eat can greatly help decrease the frequency and severity of heartburn attacks.
Understanding the Condition
Despite what the name suggests, heartburn has nothing to do with your ticker. Heartburn refers to a burning sensation that originates behind the breastbone that also generally includes a bitter or sour taste in the mouth. After chewing and swallowing your food, it passes down the esophagus and into your stomach. Between your esophagus and stomach sits a muscle valve called the esophageal sphincter that acts very much like a lid that opens and closes to allow food into your stomach.
While the lid usually closes very quickly, preventing stomach acids from escaping back up into the esophagus, heartburn occurs when the valve doesn’t completely shut, and stomach acid begins to flow, or reflux, back up the tube. Stomach acid, doing what an acid does, begins to irritate the lining of your esophagus, which causes the intense burning feeling so many heartburn suffers know all too well.
What Causes an Attack
Certain types of foods and drinks, such as coffee, citrus fruit, tomatoes products, alcohol, spicy foods, and foods high in fat, can all cause a heartburn attack by irritating the lower esophageal sphincter, and making it more likely the value doesn’t shut after eating. In addition to what you eat, heartburn attacks can also be caused by eating large meals, wearing tight fitting clothing that hugs the waist, smoking, and being overweight.
The amount of physical exercise you engage into after eating can also cause heartburn if you follow a large meal with heavy exertion. Of course sitting around after a large meal can also cause a heartburn attack, as sitting puts extra pressure on your stomach, which could force stomach acid back up into your esophagus.
If you experience regular heartburn, take note of what you ate and drank and what activities you engaged in after eating to determine what might be the cause of your heartburn attacks. To help limit the number of heartburn attacks you experience, try changing your eating habits and physical behavior following a meal. However, while your physical movements may attribute somewhat to your heartburn, the best way to decrease the frequency of attacks is by changing your diet.
What to Eat
When dealing with heartburn, moderation is key. While the fewer large meals you eat, the less likely you are to suffer from extreme heartburn, what you eat matters just as much as how much you eat. Here are some items to avoid:
- Double burgers or sandwiches with twice as much meat
- Onion rings, fires, tater tots, poppers, or any other deep fried menu item
- Spicy sauces, such as barbeque, salsa, mustard, and ketchup
- Grapefruits, oranges, lemons, and other types of fruit high in citrus
- Items that contain chocolate
Instead of these items, try introducing more foods with less fat into your diet, such as:
- Grilled chicken, turkey, or lean ham
- Plain baked potatoes
- Honey based dressings
- Whole wheat or whole grain breads
- Apples, bananas, peaches, and other fruits low in acid
- Grilled or baked fish
- Uncooked vegetables
You can learn to better manage heartburn by better managing your diet. All it takes is a serious commitment to improve the way you eat on a daily basis.