Courtesy of C. Doussett MPH, RDN of Clark’s Nutrition
The meal is a gourmand’s fantasy, the drinks are mixed perfectly, and the leather chair fits like a glove. Everything seems idyllic, yet slowly a burning sensation, accompanied by pressure, starts to radiate from the middle of the torso extending upwards into the chest. An uninvited guest in the form of recurrent heartburn snakes its way past the upper stomach, through the normally closed cardiac sphincter, and into the esophagus.
This stranger in a strange land occurs at least once monthly to 60 million Americans and daily to 15 million. While occasional heartburn may not raise any immediate red flags, chronic heartburn has the potential to become something much worse: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition occurs when the contents of the stomach (gastro), including its acid, back up into the esophagus on a regular basis. This backwash (reflux) can create an environment whereby the esophagus may become more susceptible to damage. This damage, although not usually life-threatening, may lead to “Barrett’s Esophagus” (a condition wherein stomach and intestinal cells translocate to the esophagus in 5 percent of sufferers) or may even become precancerous.
Frequent heartburn can lead to vomiting, difficulty swallowing, unexplained weight loss, and interfere with activities of daily living (ADL), in these circumstances it is imperative to inform one’s doctor. Meanwhile, there are many things that can be done to lower one’s risk of experiencing heartburn or to support a diagnosis of GERD.
What to avoid:
- Fried, greasy, and spicy foods
- Carbonated sodas
- Citrus, peppermint, raw onions and tomatoes
It may be beneficial to keep a food diary and track which foods (or situations) lead to the occurrence of heartburn. Trigger foods may worsen the effects of heartburn when mixed or at certain times of the day; unfortunately, more than 80% of day-time heartburn sufferers also report poor or compromised sleep quality. This may manifest itself in difficulty falling or staying asleep, frequent awakenings, and coughing fits.
What to emphasize:
- Smaller more frequent meals
- Melons, red apples, mangos, and bananas (low-acid fruits)
- Lean meats and fish
- Egg whites
- Potatoes and rice
- Plenty of vegetables of all colors
While foods play a large role in the occurrence of heartburn, so too can the judicious use of supplements. The following supplements may be beneficial in mitigating the effects of heartburn:
- Calcium (acid buffer) – supplemental or as found in dairy products
- Digestive enzymes – food lingering too long in the stomach may give rise to prolonged acid-secretion periods
- Ginger tea – soothing and reparative to intestinal gastrointestinal mucosa
- Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) – may improve function and integrity of stomach lining
- Melatonin for sleep
Enjoying sumptuous meals and elaborate drinks does not have to be completely off limits, yet heartburn in millions of people is not just a sign of a few rich indulgences. There may be structural or chemical issues present that require a period of evaluation and abstinence. If you experience heartburn more than twice weekly, schedule an appointment with your doctor, and in the interim, utilize the suggestions herein to reduce its effects. As always, “Carpe Salutem”!
Clark’s Nutrition and Natural Foods Market is open every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. They have a location in Chino, Loma Linda, Rancho Mirage, and Riverside. See their ad on page XX for more information.