Don’t you love those commercials that have a man sitting at the counter of a diner eating a steak sandwich or a big juicy burger when suddenly he has a look of disgust and discomfort on his face as he rubs his stomach. Then after reaching for an antacid, he’s smiling and ready to take on the world.
Maybe he should be looking at the “cause” of that heartburn and not reaching for the easy treatment. The fact is that heartburn is a symptom that can have serious consequences. It can be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eosinophilic esophagitis, Barretts esophagitis (cancer), and peptic or duodenal ulcer. The most common cause is GERD which is a relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter. Overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) or a stomach infection called H. Pylori can be causes of GERD or peptic ulcers.
Many of the remedies to treat heartburn are conveniently over the counter. The concern with treating symptoms on your own is that these remedies reduce stomach acids and for many people, this is not the problem. You can actually have symptoms of heartburn, bloating and gas and the problem can be too LITTLE stomach acids! The other problem with reducing stomach acids is that you limit the absorption of minerals which can lead to osteoporosis and other mineral deficiencies.
One easy trick is to take 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water the next time you have symptoms. If your symptoms worsen, then you are making too much acid; if your symptoms improve, then you have a deficiency in stomach acids. So the diagnosis is important.
If you do have GERD, there are many lifestyle changes you can make. First and foremost, if you are overweight, loss it!. According to a 2005 study, obesity in adults is an independent risk factor for GERD symptoms as well as esophageal erosions. Avoid eating large meals…especially before exercise. Do not drink or eat 2 hours before bedtime. And then there’s the diet. Keeping a food diary is a great way to to track what foods trigger your heartburn. In general, caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods (citrus), fatty foods, acidic foods (ground beef) and carbonated drinks can provoke GERD. See your practitioner if you find yourself reaching for those Tums after almost every meal. It could be something more than GERD.