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INDIGESTION AND HEARTBURN

FOODS THAT HARM

  • Fatty foods

    FOODS THAT HEAL

  • Small meals at regular intervals

    FOODS TO LIMIT

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine and other caffeinated drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Spicy foods
  • Peppermint
  • Tomatoes
  • Pickles
  • Vinegar
  • Citrus fruits

    WHO’S AFFECTED

  • More than 31 million Americans and 5 million Canadians experience heartburn once a week
  • Those who have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Pregnant women, the obese, and the elderly
    Many North Americans have indigestion occasionally, but for some, it is a daily trial
    Indigestion is a general term to describe discomfort in the upper abdomen after a meal
    It’s not a disease itself, but a description of symptoms
    Although indigestion is often used to describe heartburn, these are two different conditions
    Heartburn is the burning, painful sensation in the chest that occurs when stomach acid and other contents flow backward, or reflux, into the esophagus
    When acid reflux and heartburn occur at least twice a week, a person may be diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD
    Over time, GERD damages the lining of the esophagus and may even cause a precancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus
    People with GERD may require stronger medications or surgery to treat symptoms
    Indigestion can be caused by GERD, peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, cancer, or abnormality of the pancreas or bile ducts
    Heartburn may be caused by obesity and pregnancy, both of which increase pressure on the stomach and force fluids up into the esophagus
    Another possible cause of heartburn is a hiatal hernia, which develops when the upper part of the stomach protrudes through the hiatus, the opening where the esophagus meets the stomach

    Nutrition Connection

    Dietary tactics and modifications can alleviate symptoms of indigestion and heartburn
    Here are several recommendations: Eat small, frequent meals
    You may be able to digest five to six smaller meals better than three large ones
    Avoid eating within 2 hours of bedtime
    Eat a balanced, low-fat diet
    The stomach will digest a low-fat diet that offers a balance of protein, starches, and fiber-rich vegetables and fruits more easily than fatty foods, which take longer to digest and thus slow down the rate of food emptying from the stomach
    Avoid acidic foods and drinks
    Coffee, including decaffeinated brands, promotes high acid production; so do tea, cola drinks, and other sources of caffeine
    Acidic foods include citrus fruit, tomatoes, pickles, and anything made with vinegar
    Avoid spicy foods
    Omit from your diet other foods that tend to irritate your stomach or provoke bouts of indigestion
    Avoid curries, hot peppers, and any other offenders that cause discomfort
    Avoid foods that relax the diaphragmatic muscle
    Chocolate or peppermint worsens indigestion by relaxing the sphincter muscle connecting the esophagus to the stomach
    Limit alcohol intake
    Alcohol can irritate the stomach lining
    Dine earlier in the evening
    If you give yourself at least 3 hours between dinner and bedtime, your stomach is more likely to be empty when it’s time to lie down, so reflux is less likely to occur
    Chew nonmint gum for dessert
    In the case of GERD, chewing gum stimulates you to produce more saliva, which contains bicarbonate
    Gum chewing also increases your rate of swallowing
    The saliva then neutralizes the acid in the esophagus—so you’re activating nature’s own antacid system
    However, mint gums may cause the lower esophagus to relax, potentially allowing more stomach acid to rise

    Beyond the Diet

    Indigestion and heartburn caused by reflux can usually be controlled with a few lifestyle changes
    The following tips can help: Exercise
    In addition to contributing to overall health, exercise helps reduce stress, a potential cause of indigestion
    Don’t smoke
    Smoking increases stomach acid levels, and nicotine relaxes the sphincter muscle, which causes acid reflux
    Sit up straight after meals
    Bending over or lying down increases pressure on the stomach and promotes acid reflux
    Maintain a healthy weight
    Extra weight around the abdomen pushes up your stomach and causes acid reflux in your esophagus
    Don’t wear tight-fitting clothes
    Clothes that are too snug around the waist place additional pressure on your stomach
    Elevate your head at bedtime
    If heartburn strikes frequently at night, raising the head 3 to 6 in (8 to 15 cm) can help symptoms
    Sleep on your left side
    This helps reduce pressure on your stomach, which is likely to reduce the chance of reflux
    Track your triggers
    You have to know which foods trigger your symptoms—foods that work well for one person may cause problems for another
    Common foods that trigger GERD include chocolate, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol
    Keep a journal to note your symptoms; as you list foods and beverages for each meal, also note what else is going on
    Write down symptoms and their frequency
    Your diary should also note all medications taken, including supplements
    Your doctor should review this diary to help identify specific contributing factors
    Take an antacid
    An over-the-counter antacid can soothe heartburn and indigestion symptoms
    However, the use of antacids to treat heartburn by neutralizing stomach acid is questionable
    The problem is not too much acid, but acid in the wrong place
    If they do help, follow instructions and never take them for longer than recommended
    Overuse may cause diarrhea or constipation
    Talk to your doctor
    If all else fails, speak to your physician, who may run some tests or take x- rays to determine whether you have GERD or to rule out other diseases
    Prescription-strength drugs, which include H-2 receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors, may be suggested