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Heal Heartburn with Healthy Habits

Are you suffering from heartburn?
Are you suffering from heartburn?

The pain of heartburn is something 10% of Americans experience daily. It happens when stomach acid irritates the esophagus. The symptoms include a burning feeling in the throat, burning in the chest behind the breastbone after eating and difficulty swallowing. You may also experience chest pain when lying down or after bending over and the feeling that food is "sticking" in your throat or chest. Eventually you can develop a sore throat, chronic cough or hoarseness.

It's unpleasant and over time can lead to a more serious condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Fortunately there are ways to reduce or even eliminate heartburn, and exercise tops the list. Here's why.

Heartburn happens when a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) fails to keep stomach acid in the stomach. If there's too much pressure on the stomach, say from obesity or pregnancy, the LES doesn't tighten like it should and stomach acid starts leaking.

If you're overweight, dropping a few pounds can make a difference. Just be careful which exercises you choose. Avoid any jarring movements because they can jostle the contents of your stomach and cause the acid to back up and trigger heartburn episodes. Don't go jogging, jumping rope or participating in bouncy aerobic classes. Instead try walking, riding a bike, the stair climber or an elliptical. Pilates stomach strengthening exercises are good too.

For those times when you can't avoid lots of shaking, try taking an antacid before or during your routine.

Check your wardrobe. Make sure you're wearing loose fitting clothing. Tight pants and shirts can push against your stomach and cause problems. If your pants are so tight you have a "muffin top" it's time to drop a few pounds or get some bigger sizes.

Muffins (For those of you who don't know what a muffin top is, Wikipedia defines it as "...the phenomenon of overhanging flesh when it spills over the waistline of pants or skirt in a manner that resembles the top of a muffin spilling over its paper casing. This generally occurs when an obese or overweight person wears low-rise, hip-hugger pants, or midriff-baring tops that are too small.")

 

Stress is another heartburn trigger because it causes increased acid production. Taking yoga classes can help you release tension. Avoid using alcohol to relax, it can actually set heartburn off.

Too much food or foods that relax the LES may also be a problem. Caffeinated products, chocolate, citrus fruits, garlic, onions, peppermint and tomatoes are all culprits. Sometimes foods that are high in fat cause heartburn, as can certain medications.

Wait at least two hours after eating before you exercise. It'll give your stomach a chance to digest some of the food. When you eat, do it slowly. Rushing through a meal can cause you to overeat, because you don't give your stomach enough time to tell your brain you're full. Try taking a bite, then putting your spoon or fork down until you've swallowed. Eating several small meals throughout the day instead of two or three big ones may help as well.

When you lie down, stomach acid can creep up and cause discomfort. Eat your last meal of the day two or three hours before bedtime. That'll give your stomach time to digest the food and empty before you lay down.

Elevating your head when you go to bed also helps. Try and get your head and chest higher than your feet, but don't do it with pillows. Pillows can tilt your head so that you're putting more pressure on your stomach, making matters worse. Instead put blocks under the bedposts at the head of the bed and raise them 5-8 inches.

Smoking is a major contributor because it both relaxes the LES and stimulates stomach acid. Unfortunately switching to smokeless cigarettes won't do any good. It's the nicotine that does the weakening. If you smoke, look into smoking cessation programs.

Last but not least, keep a heartburn log. Write down what you're eating, drinking and doing each day so you can see what's triggering the incidents.


Taking Antacids for Heartburn?

Long-term use of antacids can increase the likelihood of vitamin B-12 deficiency. Researchers believe the drugs interfere with the digestive process that pulls the vitamin from food.

If you've taken a proton pump inhibitor for two years or more, such as Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium, your risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency is 65% higher than if you didn't take those drugs.

Talk to your doctor about reducing your dependency on those drugs and increasing your intake of vitamin B-12.


Proton Pump Inhibitors and Pneumonia?

Nexium and Prevacid are proton pump inhibitors that work by suppressing stomach acid, a job they're extremely effective at. Unfortunately stomach acid is also a defense against bacteria.

Researcher Robert J.F. Laheij and his colleagues reported in the October 27th, 2004 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association that people taking proton pump inhibitors had a 90% higher risk of getting pneumonia than a control group not taking the drugs. The study was extensive, comparing the medical records of more than 350,000 patients.

The higher the dose of proton pump inhibitors, the greater the pneumonia risk.


Heartburn Drugs Linked with Dementia Risk

German researchers tracked over 73,000 users of proton pump inhibitors (P.P.I.s) including Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec for more than five years. All the subjects were over the age of 75 and free of dementia when the study began.

Within five years, 29,000 developed Alzheimer's disease or other dementias. Then the researchers drilled down into the data and controlled for things like age, depression, diabetes, heart disease, sex, stroke and the use of other medications. After dealing with those other variables, they found that men who use P.P.I.s had a 52 percent increase in risk for dementia and women increased their risk by 42 percent.

Remember this does not mean P.P.I.s CAUSE dementia. Researchers now need to look deeper into the subjects and find out what other common things are happening with people who take P.P.I.s that may be increasing their risk.

If you're currently taking P.P.I.s, you should talk to your doctor about ways to reduce or eliminate your dependence on them.

Heartburn Drugs Linked with Higher Rate of Infection

The news just keeps getting worse for people heartburn pills. According to a study carried out by the Broad Institute of Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, people taking heartburn medication are more prone to infection.

Researchers sequenced the fecal DNA from 1,815 people. They found that those taking acid blockers (proton-pump inhibitors) had "less gut bacterial diversity."

The people taking heartburn medication were more prone to infection than those not taking acid blockers. Researchers believe part of the reason is the lack of microbes that might kill off Salmonella or C. difficile.

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9/6/2009
Updated 5/5/2014
Updated 2/20/2016
Updated 6/16/2016