Heartburn - what are the symptoms and how can they be prevented?
Do you experience heartburn or acid reflux? You’re not alone! Heartburn is typically a symptom of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), which is more common than most people believe it to be. In fact, it affects at least 1 in 10 of the population on a weekly basis. Other symptoms of GORD include chest pain, chronic cough and malfunction of the lungs.
What is GORD?
Once food is chewed and swallowed it travels down the oesophagus, which leads to the stomach. Normally we have well-functioning valves that stop the food from travelling back into the oesophagus. In GORD, however, this barrier is disrupted, and stomach content and/or stomach acid, can return back to the oesophagus. This is painful, and if it happens frequently, can cause damage and inflammation.
What causes GORD?
Causes for GORD include genetic factors and acquired factors, including certain bacteria. It can also occur if you have increased pressure from the abdominal area, for instance when pregnant or if you carry a lot of fat around your middle. Additionally, more and more people are affected due to lifestyle and dietary factors. Smoking, strenuous physical activity, and, above all, stress, are leading causes of GORD.
Your diet may also play an important role in GORD.
What are the top nutritional tips to prevent symptoms?
The most effective dietary methods of managing GORD include:
Eat smaller meals more frequently (larger portions stretch the stomach more, putting more pressure on the valve)
Slow down when you eat. It’s been shown that a meal consumed within 5 minutes caused significantly more reflux than the same meal consumed within 30 minutes
Chewing (sugar-free) gum after a meal. This increases saliva production and swallowing frequency, the combination of which has been shown to reduce acid exposure
Avoid eating late at night
Avoid bending, lifting, or lying down after meals
Avoid excessive consumption of caffeine-containing drinks, alcohol, citrus fruit juices and carbonated drinks, as these can increase acid production and can act as irritants. Avoid these particularly on an empty stomach.
Avoid highly spiced foods as they can exacerbate symptoms
First and foremost, try to de-stress. This is particularly important during and after a meal. That way your body can get into rest and digest mode, resulting in more efficient digestion. Try to focus on your meal (we tend to eat more when distracted) and slow down by properly chewing your food and placing your fork down between bites. If you can, avoid having your morning coffee on an empty stomach, and if not, have it with some milk. All these little changes together should make a big difference. If you have persistent symptoms, please seek medical advice. Medically, GORD can be treated with antacids or proton pumps.
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