Heartburn: Most of us have dealt with it (and dread it)—myself included. Whether you experience uncomfortable reflux symptoms once in a blue moon or anytime you take so much as a sip of coffee, here are my tried-and-true ways to ease heartburn.
Why Heartburn Happens
Most people experience heartburn as an awful burning sensation in their chest, a sour taste in their mouth, or even just a sore throat or burpy cough. Typically, these issues get worse after eating, in the evening, or when lying down or bending over.
Technically called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and also known as acid reflux, heartburn occurs when the contents of the stomach (including stomach acid) move backwards and upwards into the esophagus. In some cases, these symptoms can actually signal more serious conditions, like ulcers and heart conditions. However, many people who experience heartburn are diagnosed with GERD after a medical evaluation.
Luckily, heartburn is a condition you can manage with lifestyle and diet changes, as well as the occasional antacid.
Simple Ways To Ease Heartburn
Depending on the severity of your heartburn, the following tips can help you ease your discomfort—or even prevent it altogether.
1. Avoid Caffeine
Caffeine is a huge contributor to GERD. Excess caffeine consumption actually relaxes the muscle that connects the stomach to the esophagus, making it easier for stomach acid to travel upwards into your esophagus.
To ease your heartburn, you’ll want to cut down the amount of caffeine you drink—and pay attention to timing. If you love coffee, I recommend sticking to three or four ounces in the morning. (If you drink coffee all day long, you’ll pay for it with heartburn in the evening!) I personally make sure I stop drinking coffee around noon to avoid heartburn symptoms later on.
2. Limit Fried, Fatty Foods
Fried and fatty foods worsen heartburn by delaying stomach emptying and contributing to higher concentrations of stomach acid. Many common foods have high enough fat content to cause issues, including full-fat dairy, certain cuts of red meat, heavy desserts, cream sauces, and anything oily or greasy.
Save the heavier foods for special occasions and, when you do indulge, be mindful of your portions; your stomach and esophagus will thank you!
3. Watch Out For Citrus And Tomatoes
Interestingly, certain healthy foods can also exacerbate heartburn, too. Citrus fruits and tomatoes, for example, have a high acid content, which can spell trouble when combined with your existing stomach acid.
If you have frequent acid reflux, watch your intake of oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, tomatoes, salsa, and any type of tomato sauce or product.
4. Limit Alcohol
Because alcohol can also relax the muscle between the stomach and esophagus, it’s another direct contributor to heartburn. Beer and wine are considered the biggest culprits because the fermentation process involved in both creates a lot of acid.
On top of that, we tend to combine alcohol with foods that also worsen reflux symptoms. (Think: a glass of red wine with pasta and tomato sauce or a beer with a burger and fries.) Though these individual offenders may not be so bad on their own, they can cause wicked heartburn when paired together.
When having alcohol with a meal, evaluate the food you order carefully. As with caffeine, watch your total alcohol intake and try not to consume it too close to bedtime. If you do consume alcohol well into the evening, stick to non-citrus, non-carbonated mixers to ward off further issues.
5. Go Easy On The Bubbles
Carbonated beverages (sodas, sparkling water) are an often-overlooked cause of reflux. As their bubbles expand in your stomach, the pressure exacerbates the back-up of stomach acid into your esophagus. Not to mention, sodas, sparkling wines, and champagne all have an acidic quality that can also make acid levels even worse. For these reasons, I recommend steering clear of sparkling beverages if you have issues with heartburn.
6. Consider Antacids
Though I prefer to focus primarily on using lifestyle to ward of reflux issues, if you need extra support, an over-the-counter antacid can help. Antacids work by neutralizing excess stomach acid, helping to ease pain and discomfort.
When taking an antacid, be mindful of following the package directions, dosing, ingredients, and side effects. Since antacid use can sometimes mask more serious GI issues, like ulcers, do not use them chronically without first paying your doctor a visit.
When I do turn to an antacid, I especially like Genexa’s Heartburn Fix, which doesn’t contain all the fillers and artificial colors and flavors that many OTC heartburn meds use.
The Bottom Line
All of these tips have truly helped me manage my own acid reflux—and hopefully they’ll help you, too! However, if you notice worsening symptoms—or your symptoms last longer than a month—it’s time to see your doctor for a full evaluation.
Dr. Amy Shah, M.D., is a double board-certified physician with training from Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard Universities. With extensive training in health and nutrition, she advises on increasing energy levels, fixing gut issues, managing allergies, and boosting the immune system. Dr. Shah was recently named one of MindBodyGreen’s Top 100 Women in Wellness to Watch and is a member of Genexa‘s Medical Advisory Board.