Monday 19 August 2019

Fifteen ways to calm heartburn

Heartburn is an irritating burning deep across the chest
Heartburn is an irritating burning deep across the chest

Ed Power

After the festive season comes the detox, but for some, preventing heartburn is just as important a task as shedding the excess pounds.

A boozy blur of turkey, wine and chocolates, the Irish Christmas is a time of gleeful over-consumption - and, not uncoincidentally, also a period when your body lets you know that pushing it to the limits has consequences.

For those with a taste for big dinners and rich desserts, payback may come in the form of heartburn, that irritating burning deep across the chest.

This isn't a trivial concern: a third of regular heartburn and acid indigestion sufferers say the problem is so severe it impacts negatively on their performance at work. One in five, furthermore, say the pain is at such a heightened level, they find it hard to concentrate.

Chewing gum can combat heartburn
Chewing gum can combat heartburn

Things are hardly any better in the social sphere: 50pc of individuals experiencing heartburn say it has ruined a meal out and almost as many have suffered insomnia as a result.

Worryingly, heartburn may strike on a regular basis. Among those prone to the condition, four in 10 experience that tell-tale shooting pain once a week.

Typically, heartburn occurs in the chest, in the vicinity of the breastbone and upper abdomen. In severe cases it can spread to the neck, throat and lower jaw. Because the same nerves are affected, heartburn can be confused for cardiac arrest.

The major symptom is regurgitation of gastric acid, the chief digestive fluid in the stomach. The good news is that this common, irritating condition, can be easily treated, both with prescription and over-the counter-medication and also with sensible changes to lifestyle. Here are some tips to get you started.

1 Drink sparkling water

In an emergency - such as that dinner party you simply can't leave early - try to have fizzy water to hand. This contains bicarbonate soda - which can fight the acidity of heartburn. It's only a short-term solution: still, you'll be surprised how effective it can be.

2 Take a time-out

In the case of a severe onset of acid indigestion, don't make a difficult situation worse than it already is. So if you feel an attack coming on, give your body an opportunity to recover by calling a time-out on food and alcohol. The hope is that this will give the inflamed tissue of stomach and oesophagus a chance to settle.

3 Talk to your doctor

As with any on-going medical condition, if the symptoms do not clear up after two weeks or more, you should consider seeking an expert. That is especially the case for those aged 40 or over, as an underlying illness may have a part to play. Consult your GP: they may prescribe medicine or recommend tests.

4 Pile your pillows high

Lying down can aggravate the symptoms of heartburn - unfortunate if you're trying to get to sleep. One way of counter-acting the effect is to use extra pillows so that your body is at an angle - this will work towards keeping the acid in the stomach and, hopefully, allow you nod off.

5 Just say no… to cigarettes

Tobacco irritates the body - especially the stomach. Avoiding cigarettes will significantly lower your chances of developing heartburn. And think of all the other ways it's good for you too.

6 Know your body

Everyone is different - foods that others may be able to enjoy without a second thought could cause havoc with your digestion. So do your best to remember what foods trigger a reaction - and be sensible by avoiding them the next time temptation comes your way.

7 Exercise - but not straight away

Obviously staying fit is to be recommended, especially as you cross the threshold of 40. However, don't go running straight after a meal. You will want to give your stomach time to process what you've just consumed, so that the chances of acid reflux when you do begin pounding the pavement or hit spin class are much lesser.

8 Chew gum

There are few situations in which health care professionals will actively recommend you chew gum. However, gum-chewing encourages the production of saliva, which may soothe your oesophagus and help wash acid down your stomach. A little icky, true - and yet, highly effective.

9 Take it easy, especially when eating

If you wolf down your food in a frazzled dash, you may cause the stomach to produce more acid. That's simply the way the body responds to external stimuli. Try to take it easy after a meal also (see tip number 7 above). It isn't always possible, but if you can take the time, spend a moment sitting or even lying down.

10 Wear loose-fitting clothes

Skinny jeans - indeed any clothes that tightly hug the waistline - have the potential to put pressure on the stomach, raising the chance of heartburn. So, sorry hipsters, you need to keep it loose and easy.

11 Lose some weight

The heavier you are, the higher the chances of suffering heartburn. That's the bad news. On the positive side, just a little weight loss measurably lowers susceptibility.

12 Sleep on your left

For reasons that doctors have not quite been able to get their heads around, sleeping on your left side can reduce the incidence of heartburn. Remember: left is best, right is wrong.

13 Fight for your rice to party

Rice (along with its North African first cousin couscous) helps soothe your digestive system and fight reflux. Other foods shown to reduce the severity of heartburn include bananas, fish, egg whites and broccoli.

14 Chew it over

Yes, we know we are stating the crushingly obvious in recommending you chew your food. Still, facts are facts: chewing assists digestion by breaking down food and mixing it with enzymes in the mouth, so that it is less likely to cause issues later on.

15 Take it easy

Smaller meals spread across the day reduce the risk of heartburn. The heavier the meal the greater the possibility of acid reflux, for the simple reason that the stomach comes under increased pressure, with large volumes of food requiring digestion over a concentrated time-span.

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