Getting a Handle on the Cause of Heartburn

Heartburn is a common complaint that affects the upper digestive tract. It occurs when the valve between the stomach and esophagus relaxes or malfunctions, allowing stomach acid to back up into the esophagus and cause a painful burning sensation. This valve is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and its function is primarily to keep the stomach acids where they belong. While the stomach is designed with natural qualities that protect it from the potentially damaging acids that are used in the digestion process, the esophagus does not include the same protection. That is why you feel pain when the acids reach the esophagus, and why damage can result with chronic heartburn over a period of time. There are certain factors involving lifestyle and diet that can contribute to this valve not working properly. By understanding what these factors are, you can go a long way in preventing the cause of heartburn.

Dietary Causes of Heartburn

There are many foods that can relax the LES, slow down the digestive system, or produce additional stomach acid. All of these results can cause heartburn in some individuals, so avoiding or limiting foods that have this effect can lower or eliminate your bouts of heartburn. Foods that relax the LES include peppermint, spearmint, and chocolate. Fatty and greasy foods will slow down the digestive system, which can also be a contributing cause of heartburn. Carbonated beverages and large meals can increase the acid production in your stomach, making it more likely that those acids will find their way back up into the esophagus. You can help prevent this problem by eating smaller meals more frequently and avoiding drinks like soda and beer. If you suffer from frequent or chronic heartburn, it is also a good idea to stay away from spicy foods and citrus fruits and juices, since they can contribute to the cause of heartburn as well.

Lifestyle Causes of Heartburn

There are also a number of lifestyle choices that can contribute to the cause of heartburn. Since gravity can play a role in keeping the stomach acids down where they belong, standing or sitting upright are the best positions after a meal. Never eat right before bed, and wait at least a couple of hours before lying down after a meal. Some types of exercise that include bouncing or bending can also affect the cause of heartburn, so avoid exercises that include these movements for a period of time after eating. Smoking can be a contributing cause of heartburn, so if you suffer from frequent or chronic heartburn it is a good idea to stop smoking. Obesity can also cause problems with heartburn, and some studies have shown that even moderate weight loss can go a long way in alleviating symptoms. Finally, wearing tight clothing can add to the pressure on the stomach, forcing the acids back up into the esophagus. Avoid tight belts or clothing that binds around your middle.

Heartburn is rarely a serious problem, and with a few diet and lifestyle modifications, you can go a long way in preventing the possible causes of heartburn. If you suffer from chronic or frequent heartburn, talk to your doctor about other choices that you can make in favor of heartburn reduction and prevention.