It is pretty safe to assume that you have experienced indigestion (aka heartburn) at some point in your life. With today’s lifestyles, diets and the sheer amount of food we consume, it’s far too common.
There are various symptoms of indigestion, which can be mild or severe, from cramps in the stomach to pain in the bowel and heartburn. It’s a wide-ranging subject so to keep it simple, in this article, I am going to focus on heartburn.
Heartburn can be anything from mildly uncomfortable to really painful, and in severe cases, it’s indistinguishable from a heart attack. It causes discomfort and pain in your upper digestive tract and feels like a burning sensation in your chest.
Some can experience heartburn every day and although there are over-the-counter medications that can ease symptoms, you really don’t want to be taking those every day.
Read on to find out about foods that can cause and aggravate heartburn and those that can help plus some useful tips.
What causes heartburn?
There are many factors that can cause heartburn, here are the most common:
Alcohol: excessive alcohol consumption keeps the acidic content in the stomach longer, it stimulates the stomach to make more acid, impairs the oesophagus from keeping food down, and makes it easier for acid to rise into the oesophagus from the stomach causing GERD.
GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease): this is when stomach acid flows back towards the oesophagus. This causes irritation to the lining and tissues. Symptoms will be heartburn, acid reflux and a sensation of acid in your mouth or throat.
Stress: causes so many problems. It causes a depletion of prostaglandins, which normally protect the stomach from the effects of acid. Stress with exhaustion may present even more body changes that lead to increased acid reflux.
You can read more about dealing with stress here.
Pregnancy: heartburn is so common in pregnancy, it can be caused by hormonal changes and the baby pushing against the mother’s digestive organs as it becomes bigger.
Smoking: tobacco will cause damage to the stomach lining increasing acid production. Nicotine also relaxes the valve between the oesophagus and stomach, which allows stomach acid and juices, the chemicals that break down food in the stomach, to back up into the oesophagus.
There are other conditions that can cause excessive heartburn such as Helibactor pylori infection: this is a type of bacteria that lives in the stomach and will aggravate the stomach lining.
If you follow the suggestions below and don’t see an improvement, then please contact your GP or health provider.
How to avoid heartburn
The good news is there are so many things you can do to avoid heartburn. Here are my suggestions:
- Reduce your intake of refined sugars such as cakes, pastries and biscuits.
- Cut out alcohol or drink in moderation.
- Cut out chocolate or eat it in moderation.
- Limit your intake of citrus fruits. They contain citrus acid and can therefore increase acid production in the stomach. Cut back on oranges, lemons, limes and tomatoes.
- Red meat is harder to digest, so if you are going to eat it, limit it to once a week.
- Try to avoid sodium based salts, rich creamy foods, fried foods, full fat cheeses that are hard to digest, garlic and onions, tomato based sauces, coffee and tea, spicy foods like chilli and cayenne pepper and see if your symptoms improve.
Maybe you don’t have to cut them all out, just pay attention to what you are consuming and adapt your habits and diet and see if that helps. A good idea is to keep a food diary and make a note of how you feel after every meal.
Eliminating heartburn from your life
One of the best ways to improve your indigestion, is to give your digestive system, liver and bowel a rest and a cleanse.
This is not as hard as it sounds! All you need to do is to try eating lightly for one week.
You can have fruit for breakfast and steamed or boiled vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and green leafy vegetables. Soups are great as they are easily digested.
Fish is easier to digest than meat, so you can try a little oven-baked or steamed fish with vegetables.
We eat too much, it’s better to eat nutritionally denser, lighter meals.
Try slowly cutting down on your portions over time. Your body will get used to eating less as it adapts.
Ginger is great for digestion. There are loads of ready made herbal teas, dandelion tea is another good one, Or you can boil up some root ginger in hot water to make your own tea. Adding more ginger into your meals can also help calm your digestion.
And, as always, drink plenty of water. Aim to drink 2 litres of water a day.
Other helpful tips
Good digestion starts in the mouth. I could write an entire article on this! So many of us eat on the go, wolf down our food quickly, or don’t really pay attention to meal times, often working whilst eating.
For optimal digestion and nutrient absorption eat slowly and chew your food properly. It’s suggested that we should chew every mouthful 32 times. Our saliva contains an enzyme that starts to break down food, so when we chew our food properly our stomach does not have to work so hard and therefore does not get overloaded.
Avoid eating heavy meals before bedtime. Ideally you should want to finish eating three hours before going to bed. Allow at least two hours for your body to digest your food properly before lying down so you don’t get acid coming back up.
Do not drink with your meals. Drinking can dilute stomach acid, which will make digestion difficult.
The benefits of apple cider vinegar are vast. Taking 1tsp in water about 15 minutes before you eat will start stimulating your digestive juices, getting them ready for the intake of food.
Aloe Vera and Slippery Elm are great for healing the stomach lining. There are a variety of supplements and products available.
I hope you have found the above helpful and if you would like more tips and advice, please get in touch.