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America Asks About Heartburn & GERD

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Heartburn Prevention Tips for Spicy Food Lovers

You don’t have to stop eating spicy foods just because you have heartburn.

Heartburn Prevention: Eat Smaller Servings

Not ready to let heartburn force you to say no to salsa caliente? The next best strategy, then, is to limit the amount you eat.

“When you eat a large meal, pressure on the valve increases. So there’s a predisposition to reflux after a big meal,” Sheth says. The problem is worse if the meal causes you to belch, since that requires the valve at the top of the stomach to open. When it does, it allows trapped air to escape, sometimes bringing up acidic stomach contents along with it. For some people, drinking carbonated beverages along with a meal can exacerbate the problem.

Fatty meals can also increase the risk of reflux. “Eating fatty foods delays stomach emptying, since fat takes longer to digest,” explains Gerson. “The longer food remains in the stomach, the more chance there is of reflux.” To help prevent heartburn and GERD, choose roasted, grilled, or baked foods over fried foods, and go easy on butter.

Heartburn Prevention: Eat Early and Often

Some heartburn sufferers find relief by eating smaller meals distributed more frequently throughout the day -- a light breakfast, a midmorning snack, a light lunch followed by a midafternoon snack, for example. Scheduling dinner early can also help.

About 50% of heartburn sufferers have nighttime reflux, according to Gerson. This form can be especially unpleasant because when you’re lying down, more stomach contents can flow up into the esophagus. Nighttime reflux can also disturb sleep. Gerson’s tip? Eat dinner at least three hours before bedtime. That’s enough time to allow the stomach to empty before you hit the pillow.

Heartburn Prevention: Rely on Gravity

Another way to relieve nighttime reflux requires nothing more than two wood blocks. Elevating the head of your bed a few inches enlists gravity to help keep stomach contents from rising, Sheth says. You can also use a wedge-shaped pillow to elevate your upper body at night. For daytime heartburn, the best way to employ gravity is to remain upright after a meal. Walking after a big meal can also help. But don’t overdo it. Some research links vigorous exercise to an increase in reflux risk.

Heartburn Prevention: Chew Gum

Saliva helps move food down through the esophagus and can ease the symptoms of heartburn. To increase salivation, try chewing gum after a meal or an attack of heartburn. Avoid mint-flavored gums, however, since these may relax the valve at the top of the stomach.

Heartburn Prevention: Get Healthy

The most reliable ways to avoid GERD may be the hardest to accomplish: quit smoking if you smoke and lose weight if you’re overweight. Studies show that smokers are more prone to heartburn than nonsmokers. And the longer people smoke, the more likely they are to suffer acid reflux.

Being overweight can add to the pressure on the valve between the stomach and the esophagus. One study showed that every increase of 5 on the body mass index increases the risk of GERD by 1.2%. Eating smaller portions and walking after a meal can help you shed pounds at the same time they help prevent heartburn.

Reviewed on January 23, 2009
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