Wednesday 13 December 2017

10 simple ways to avoid heartburn

As National Heartburn Awareness Week begins, we list the best ways to calm the ailment

Herbal teas
Herbal teas
Heartburn - there are ways to calm the ailment. Getty Images.
Vicki Notaro

Vicki Notaro

If you've ever experienced heartburn, you'll be all too familiar with the nasty, hot feeling at the back of your throat. It can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, and although not life-threatening in any way, it can certainly affect the quality of your life.

This is the first National Heartburn Awareness week, designed to highlight the issue and get people talking about it with their doctors and pharmacists - after all, 51pc of Irish people are affected by the ailment, with 53pc of those saying it has a negative impact on their lifestyle.

Here are 10 simple ways to avoid the dreaded heartburn, before resorting to medication.

1 Know why it happens

"Heartburn is caused by the reflux or backflow of gastric acid from the stomach into the oesophagus," explains Dr Ciara Kelly, the expert face of National Heartburn Awareness Week.

"It occurs when the lower oesophageal sphincter does not close tightly, allowing acid to escape out of the stomach into the oesophagus.

"Unlike the stomach, the oesophagus does not have a protective lining, so is sensitive to the acid which actually burns the walls of the oesophagus, causing that painful feeling."

The best thing to do when experiencing heartburn is consult with your pharmacist, but trying all of the tips below might help too.

"Heartburn is generally not a cause for major concern as most of us experience it at some point in our lives. However, frequent heartburn, which occurs two or more times a week, should not be taken lightly.

"If you are suffering from heartburn twice a week or more, my recommendation is to discuss your symptoms with your local pharmacist or GP to ensure you are benefiting from the appropriate treatment."

2 Maintain a healthy weight

Heartburn is more common in those who are overweight or obese, according to Dr Kelly. In the US, researchers who analysed 10,000 women in the Nurse's Health Study found that weight gain of 10-20 pounds was associated with a threefold increase in heartburn symptoms.

Also, when overweight people become obese, it further heightens their risk for developing gastroesophageal reflux disease.

3 Stop smoking

If you're a regular reader of these features, you'll know that quitting smoking helps with almost every ailment imaginable, but it has a real effect on heartburn relief.

From excess saliva production to excess stomach acid and a weakening of the oesophagus, nicotine really contributes to heartburn. In fact, it can even slow your digestion. So laying off the cigarettes, or even cutting back, can lead to a much more comfortable existence when it comes to suffering from heartburn.

4 Reduce your alcohol intake

Alcohol has a direct effect on your mouth, throat, oesophagus and stomach, so it's not surprising that it directly affects heartburn too. It aggravates the lining of the digestive tract and can be quite acidic (especially when paired with sugary fizzy drinks) so cutting back or cutting out specific drinks that make you suffer especially is a good idea. Stay within the safe guidelines of alcohol consumption (21 units for men, 14 for women) and you can't go far wrong.

5 Don't eat late at night

Those who live with frequent heartburn should know the golden rule - nothing should pass the lips three to four hours before bedtime in order to allow the stomach to digest the meal that's in there.

Snacking after dinner will only add to the pile of food that the intestines will need to clear out. This is especially one to note after you've had a few drinks - the combination can be hellish for sufferers.

6 Avoid spicy and acidic foods

Another one to watch after a night out on the tiles - often when we've been drinking, our urge is to go for something full of flavour, a kebab or a curry, to soak up the booze. Again, if you ingest such a thing after midnight (and a few pints) and then go to bed, you're asking for trouble. Even if you're not drinking, avoiding things like onions, garlic, tomatoes and citrus fruits should help with the unpleasant sensations, according to Dr Kelly.

7 Reduce your tea and coffee intake

Like nicotine, coffee relaxes the oesophageal sphincter and allows that nasty stomach acid to creep up your throat, causing heartburn symptoms. That's why you might notice it more after your morning coffee. Switching to decaf or herbal teas should definitely help, with the likes of peppermint and chamomile tea actually known to soothe the digestive system rather than anger it.

8 Listen to your tummy! If something upsets it, cut it out

Dr Kelly advises keeping note of what triggers your heartburn, because it can be different for different people. Some 24pc of Irish people with heartburn admit that it limits their dietary choices, but it could be worth it if you're experiencing severe or disruptive symptoms.

9 Try some natural remedies

Over-the-counter and prescription medicines are great if the issue in question is severe, but if you'd prefer to try and fix it first by using natural products, why not try some alternative remedies? Milk thistle is said to help with heartburn, and eating mustard is known to help with acid reflux. Apples, bananas and almonds can also help with heartburn, while some people swear by chewing sugar-free gum.

10 Sleep elevated, or on your side

The aim with heartburn is to keep stomach acid where it belongs - in the stomach, where the lining is thick enough for it to go unnoticed. Help yourself by utilising gravity - sleeping any way other than flat on your back or stomach is going to keep the nasty stuff where it belongs.

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