Heartburn and GERD

Heartburn happens when your stomach acid backs out of your stomach and up into your esophagus. It occurs from these things most commonly:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Being overweight
  • Overeating at meals where the food pushes out and stretches the stomach and makes acid overflow, out the way it shouldn’t go
  • Eating high-fat meals which take longer to be released from the stomach
  • Lying down soon after eating
  • Certain medications or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) you might be taking could weaken esophagus contractions, slow stomach emptying, or damage esophagus lining. Do your research on your meds.
  • Foods that “lower the tone of the esophagus valve”1 – fats and chocolate
  • Foods that irritate lining of esophagus: citrus juice, tomato juice and products, chili peppers, and pepper
  • Foods that “weaken the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, encouraging acid reflux or heart burn”1:
    • fried, fatty foods
    • coffee (coffee beans themselves increase stomach acid, so decaf won’t help you)
    • caffeine
    • soda
    • alcohol
    • chocolate
    • peppermint, spearmint
    • garlic
    • onions
  • Foods that cause pressure which moves acid back up into esophagus: any carbonated drinks
  • Foods that increase stomach acid secretion: calcium in dairy milk (SO DON’T GO DOWNING A JUG OF MILK TO HELP YOUR HEARTBURN!)
  • Being pregnant (in the later stages)
  • Some types of heavy lifting and exercises that put pressure on abdominal muscles or bending over a certain way or sometimes running
  • Stress

What should I do?

  • Don’t eat closer than 3 hours before bedtime
  • Put a wedge pillow under your upper body to sleep at an angle
  • Eat slowly
  • Whenever you get heartburn, write down all the foods you just ate. Now avoid each one from now on (or do an elimination game until you figure out the exact one that caused it).
  • Chew a lot, eat slowly, and play nice music
  • Eat smaller more frequent meals instead of three big ones per day
  • Chew gum to increase saliva
  • Rigorous exercise should be at least two hours after eating
  • Drink soothing teas: chamomile, ginger, licorice, marshmallow root

GERD is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and is a more painful type of heartburn that occurs a few times per week. For a few weeks, follow very closely the rules above and avoid very strictly the stuff in the first list above; then if it doesn’t go away after that, consult your doctor – you may have permanent damage and could perhaps need gastroesophageal reflux surgery… fun!–is all that junk food, booze, and smoke worth it?

I am not going to go into antacids or medicine because I believe you should first work on elimination, not treating the symptoms just so you can keep eating crap! Besides, those things have their own side effects that you may not enjoy.


1. Magee, Elaine MPH, RD. Tell Me What to Eat If I Have Acid Feflux. (c) 2002 Career Press
2. Harvard Medical School. The Sensitive Gut. (c) 2000 Simon & Schuster
3. Thompson, Janice & Manore, Melinda. Nutrition: An Applied Approach, 3rd Ed. (c) 2012 Pearson Education

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