Heart burn is a bit of an umbrella term we use informally. We’ve probably all experienced the isolated case of heart burn or indigestion, but if you’re dealing with chronic discomfort, it’s time to take a look at your diet and lifestyle. Also be aware that heart burn and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) are not the same thing, although prime time drug commercials would love to convince you otherwise. (GERD is – in my opinion – essentially an invented condition, though technically it’s a combination of chronic heart burn and acid reflux. I would argue that in the majority of cases, lifestyle is to blame. I’m just not aware of any genetic component behind heart burn, acid reflux, and “GERD”. Nevertheless, it’s serious – let it get out of control and you risk major esophageal damage, even cancer.)
The lifestyle changes required to address chronic heart burn are so simple. Once again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There’s just no reason to suffer the discomfort of heart burn – let alone be taking antacids or other drugs to combat it. Of course, for advanced cases of acid reflux or full-blown GERD, natural preventive measures probably aren’t going to cure the problem, though they will certainly help to mitigate the symptoms.
Here are a few quick tips. It’s easy, I promise:
1. Cut out the alcohol.
Stop drinking, or at least reduce the amount of intake. Cutting back on drinking is a very simple, effective way to reduce acid (and the burping). If you’re drinking more than a glass or two of wine, it’s too much. Cut back, especially late at night, and you’ll feel better. You’ll also likely sleep better, as alcohol can interfere with sleep patterns. I like to have a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, but I limit myself.
2. Stop eating fried junk.
I hate to be so blunt (O.K., not really) but you don’t need to be letting fried food get anywhere near your mouth. I know, we all love the calamari appetizer and kids love the chicken nuggets. Everything from crab to shrimp to chicken to vegetables comes fried, and sure, these things are tasty and indulgent (I guess…I think you can quickly retrain your tastes for healthier fare). But breaded, deep-fried food – aside from being a nutritional enemy of mine because of the free radicals – is garbage food. It irritates the digestive tract and is the quickest way to get heart burn. Limit the grease and stick with clean, smart fats that are not refined or fried. Think olive oil, organic butter in small amounts, flax seed oil, and the like. Bake, grill, broil, pan “fry” in a smart fat like olive oil, and avoid the breading and deep frying.
3. Reduce drug intake.
I’m talking about legal drugs here that nevertheless irritate the esophagus and digestive tract. Coffee, prescription drugs, painkillers, energy drinks, sodas – these things are “drugs”, technically. Try to eliminate them to the extent you can. I do like a big cup (or two) of coffee in the morning, but I avoid painkillers – especially aspirin – at all costs and I don’t drink soda.
4. Lose weight.
This is a sure way to reduce the problem permanently. Eliminate junk food, refined carbohydrates like pasta and bread and pastries, and soda. Next, work to reduce your portions. One easy way to do this is to eat only half your entree when dining out. At home, use smaller plates and bowls (toss those massive pasta bowls or store them away for company). Make sure most of your plate is taken up by vegetables. Don’t eat out of habit – eat when you are hungry, and stop before you are full. Even 5 pounds will help, and if you follow these tips, you can do that in about two weeks.
5. Know your body and adjust accordingly.
Some foods are just more irritating than others, and some of us are more sensitive than others. Avoid spicy foods and acidic vegetables and fruits like tomatoes if you are particularly sensitive. Don’t eat large, heavy meals, especially late at night. Beyond that, avoid pro-inflammatory foods (e.g. processed and refined junk food). Peppers are healthy for you and have cancer-fighting properties, so don’t limit them unless you have to. I recommend getting plenty of healthy fats, fresh produce, and lean protein as the base of your diet. If 90% of what you eat is fresh, whole and unprocessed, your heart burn problem may simply take care of itself. Sugars, chemicals, refined grains, and Frankenfats are the fast route to aggravating heart burn – or worse, a lifestyle condition like GERD.