4 Natural Ways To Fight Heartburn
Heartburn is one of those unsavory problems that can create a sizable nuisance. It's also a common problem, affecting one in twelve adults Americans at least once a week! However, while advertisements tout pharmaceutical remedies for the problem, there are plenty of natural ways to fight heartburn!
If there is a stone in your shoe causing pain with each step, isn't it better to remove the stone than to keep on treating the pain? While this concept may be simple and obvious, the treating-pain-vs-removing-stone debate comes up all the time in medicine. It astounds me how quick we are to treat the symptoms of a problem without considering its cause.
This blog will highlight pre-pharmaceutical recommendations I make to patients.
#1. Make Lifestyle Changes
There are many factors in our routine that may bring about heartburn. With such causes identified, removal may improve heartburn significantly:
- Moderate Spicy and Acidic Foods: Spicy or acidic foods leave the stomach contents more acidic meaning that any reflux from the stomach will be even more irritating to the esophagus.
- Cut Back (Or Cut Out!) on Alcohol, Nicotine and Caffeine: In a similar fashion, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine may both promote acid production in the stomach and relax the sphincter that keeps the stomach contents from entering back into the esophagus - a double-edged sword.
- De-Stress: The connection between stress and ulcers is well-known. Indeed, stress has been shown to stimulate the acid-producing cells of the stomach to work harder.
- Drop Some Weight: Finally, a lifestyle which leads to obesity promotes heartburn through increased abdominal girth and pressure on the stomach. Patients are often astounded at how dropping a habit or losing 5-10 pounds can essentially fix their heartburn.
#2. Switch Medications
A few medications can contribute to heartburn. Common blood pressure medications called calcium channel blockers lower blood pressure by relaxing smooth muscle (the muscle in blood vessels and bowels). While these medicines can do a wonderful job at their intended goal, they can also relax the smooth muscle in the esophagus and the sphincter at the esophagus-stomach junction leading to heartburn. Examples of calcium channel blockers include Norvasc (amlodipine), Cardizem (diltiaazam), and Cardura (niphedipine). Nitroglycerine and its related products for heart conditions can also cause heartburn in a similar fashion.
#3. Angle Your Bed
Heartburn is often a losing battle against gravity. While our upright stature during the day may keep acid in the stomach, lying flat at night levels out our body and can bring about acid sneaking through that esophageal sphincter.
For night-time heartburn, raising the head of the bed a bit may be all that it takes to keep things at bay! Studies have found that a five degree elevation may help heartburn and not leave you sliding to the bottom of the bed while you sleep. I usually have patients start out with a phone book under each leg of the bed’s head.
#4. Try Calcium
Calcium can neutralize stomach acid. It is the main component of Tums and the reason a glass of milk can settle an acidic stomach. Menopausal women are supposed to take 1200-1500 mg of calcium each day to prevent osteoporosis. For men, it doesn’t hurt either.
Take your calcium supplement before the time when heartburn typically hits. Alternatively, substitute three Tums for the calcium supplement, as each one contains 500 mg of calcium.
When symptoms are refractory to the above, there are a whole host of available therapies - most being available without a prescription.
Heartburn is common. A number of lifestyle factors exist which can cause heartburn, and mproving these factors can remove the nuisance of heartburn. Occasionally, heartburn can emerge as a side-effect of medication, but raising the head of the bed can help with nighttime heartburn symptoms. Supplementing calcium can also help. If the ideas presented above still aren't helpful, try an over-the-counter pharmaceutical agent. If these don't work either, see your doctor - a scope may be needed to rule out something more significant.