It’s an uncomfortable feeling… You get a burning sensation right behind your breastbone. It hurts to bend over. You’re coughing, your stomach feels off, and you can’t sleep.
You’ve got severe heartburn.
For about 60 million Americans, these symptoms are all too familiar. Heartburn is so widespread, we’ve written about it several times. But we just read a new study suggesting that simple dietary changes are just as effective at reliving symptoms as medications.
Before we dig into the study, it’s important to understand a few points…
Heartburn is the term for the symptoms you experience. The burning sensation you feel occurs right by your heart, but remember – it has nothing to do with your heart.
When we swallow, food travels down our esophagus into our stomach. The muscle between the two is called the lower esophageal sphincter. It opens and shuts like a gate. But sometimes the sphincter doesn’t close properly. When that happens, stomach acid can splash up to the esophagus. This is known as acid reflux, and it causes heartburn.
Occasional acid reflux is very common. But it can develop into gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD involves reflux more than twice a week or swelling in the esophagus. It can include other symptoms like regurgitation or trouble swallowing.
A brand-new study published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery looked at folks with a similar condition called laryngopharyngeal reflux. This reflux happens when you get stomach acid in the upper part of your throat.
The researchers took these folks and divided them into groups. One group consumed a mostly vegetable-based Mediterranean diet and the other received proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs). (We’ve warned readers about PPIs here andhere.)
Here’s the thing… those on the diet saw bigger improvements in their reflux symptoms than those on PPIs.
That means you can get just as much relief from dietary changes as you can from dangerous PPIs that contribute to everything from heart attacks to dementia.
What’s more, vegetables contain lots of antioxidants that help alleviate widespread inflammation. The study’s lead authors believe calming that inflammation helps reduce reflux. That might also mean relief for folks with occasional reflux as well as GERD.
Every time we mention heartburn, we get flooded with tips and questions. We’ve written before about a few of them, including the benefits of losing weight and quitting smoking.
Here are a few more tips…
Don’t eat before bed. Give your stomach time to digest and move your food to your colon before lying down. When you sleep, try elevating your head or lying on your left side to help with digestion.
Keep track of trigger foods. Part of the reason some of the folks in the study most likely found relief was by avoiding foods… even foods that we might recommend for their health benefits. These include caffeine, alcohol, onions, and garlic.
Some other common triggers are foods we typically say to consume in moderation, like those high in fat, fried foods, and whole-milk foods (like cheese).
Use a food journal to help you keep track of what brings on an attack.
These next two tips are worth a try… But keep in mind that the science is scant.
Apples. We’ve had several folks tell us that sweet apples reduce reflux. The problem is, there’s little research out there to confirm this. One possible reason is that sweeter apples help create a more alkalizing environment in your stomach that neutralizes acid.
Another possible cause – apples contain a flavonoid called quercetin. A very small number of studies show that quercetin is just as effective at calming reflux as popular drug omeprazole. Keep in mind, acidic apples like Granny Smiths could aggravate your symptoms.
Apple cider vinegar. This is one of the most asked about items we hear. It’s a bit tricky for heartburn because you might get heartburn from a lack of stomach acid. The condition, called hypochlorhydria, happens naturally as we age, but it can cause similar problems as too much acid, including pain, heartburn, and bloating.
Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, so including it in your diet may help raise your stomach acid and ease reflux. The main problem is there’s so little research on “home remedies” like this, it’s hard to say how well it works. If you want to give it a go, check with your doctor to make sure that it won’t interfere with your medications. Also check on the root cause of your heartburn… If you have too much acid, you could worsen your situation.
Some folks just won’t find enough relief from heartburn using these tricks, particularly if they have GERD. In these cases, medications might be the best option. If so, always try H2 antagonists before PPIs.
- Something different: In the mood for a kangaroo burger?
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
September 12, 2017