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Volume III
November 9, 2012

Weekly Home / Cook'n & Eat'n

Natural Ways to Handle Heartburn!

By Alice Osborne

I talk all the time about keeping fit and healthy, and one very necessary thing we can do to keep healthy is to minimize as much as possible, the number of over-the-counter drugs (OTCs) we take.

Most have serious side-effects - something those of us with insulin issues and already taxed immune systems and vital organs don't need. Yet how do we deal with those common maladies that come along now and then? Take heartburn and acid reflux, for instance. Whatever it is that gives you heartburn, just know there are natural ways to deal with it besides downing antacids such as Prilosec (one of the more popular OTCs for this condition), Nexium, Mylanta, Tums, or Rolaids.

I bring the antacid issue up for 2 reasons: 1) I know so many people that struggle with it and actually do take Prilosec, and 2) holiday eating/gorging is near at hand, and with it comes heartburn! So deciding now on how to handle it could save you discomfort come Thanksgiving.

So let's talk about heartburn and taking antacids. It's not just terribly painful, it robs you of sleep, and can be terrifying when mistaken for a heart attack. Heartburn has become epidemic: Half of all Americans deal with it, and 15%- 43 million people - experience it so often that they need to consult a doctor. In fact, heartburn is so common that the leading medications, Prilosec and other proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), are among the world's most frequently prescribed drugs.

Any antacid can help neutralize stomach acid. But buyer beware: taking enough of these products long enough can actually result in bone loss - especially when it comes to teeth. And serious calcium and magnesium deposits can result from using them, AND the system's balance of good/bad acids can become disrupted.

But, if you're convinced only an antacid will do, then at least read labels. Doctors say to look on the label for the amount of calcium or magnesium in the product. If constipation is a problem, choose a brand that lists magnesium first. If you deal with diarrhea, then choose one with calcium listed first (just a couple more complications from relying on antacids.)

If, however, you'd like to try a more natural and gentle approach - if you want to avoid medications completely, start eating small amounts of food throughout the day rather than a few larger meals. Smoking acerbates heartburn, so if you smoke, stop it. And (this is a tough one for millions of folks) limit the amount of caffeine in your diet - in fact, stop drinking sodas altogether. These leach calcium from the body.

If you are having heartburn symptoms, choose your foods carefully. Symptoms can be controlled this way. For instance, choose fruits, vegetables, and grains, over fatty foods. Whole foods are gentle on the stomach, while fatty foods spend more time in the stomach generating acid. Look to having a light snack to help absorb some of the excess stomach acid. Bland foods like bananas or graham crackers are good choices, and apple juice is also an excellent choice. Avoid orange juice or other acidic beverages, though.

Fatty foods are hard to digest and simply create chaos in the stomach. This is why pepperoni pizza is a classic heartburn trigger. Some other things to consciously avoid? Acidic foods such as coffee, chili peppers, orange and tomato juice, and tomato sauce. And drugs like tetracycline, aspirin, and ibuprofen, as well as iron and potassium supplements. These all cause heartburn.

Some research I found on, quotes gastroenterologist Neil Stollman, an associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. Besides carefully choosing what you eat, he says to be careful how you eat: "Beware the double whammy of stress and eating on the run, which tend to go hand in hand. Stress triggers both acid production and sensitivity to heartburn pain, while eating quickly encourages overeating and pushes acid up the esophagus. Eat slowly, chew thoroughly, relax when you eat, and only eat moderately-sized portions."

Another heartburn soother is saliva. Saliva is a chemical base, so it neutralizes refluxing acid and washes it back into the stomach. So to draw on this natural soother, chew gum. Studies show that chewing gum after meals significantly reduces esophageal acid levels. Who knew?

And there are several herbs that make good heartburn remedies. One to two teaspoons of chamomile, angelica, anise, caraway seeds, peppermint and spearmint, coriander, fennel, or a combination make a soothing tea that can be taken after a meal.

Walking after a meal, and sleeping with your head elevated will also minimize if not prevent heartburn. And then there's weight. Research shows that losing weight also contributes to losing the frequency of heartburn bouts.

If you are a scanner rather than a complete reader, then here's the synopsis: We don't need to take antacids for heartburn. Make better food choices, chew some gum, take a walk, sleep with your head elevated, and rely on some soothing herbal teas now and then. Natural remedies are always better than those OTCs with all their unnecessary and nasty side affects!


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