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Feel the burn? 12 tips to douse the fire of heartburn.

The latest news about heartburn couldn't be more confusing. Researchers from Stanford University recently reviewed 100 studies on heartburn and concluded that, contrary to popular belief, what you eat has no effect on heartburn symptoms. Yet several other studies have found that a variety of diet and lifestyle changes, from eating highfiber foods and a low-fat diet to exercising regularly can ease symptoms, while being overweight or eating too close to bedtime can make symptoms worse.

Which findings are right? It may be an individual matter. Here is EN's take on what to do when heartburn becomes a recurring distress in your life.

When Heartburn Gets a Grip. While almost everyone experiences occasional heartburn, 44% of Americans experience symptoms at least once a month. Some studies suggest that your chance of suffering from heartburn may be a genetic roll of the dice. And once you have it, heartburn is likely to dog you for life, returning often.

When heartburn has you in its grip, the symptoms can even mimic a heart attack. Sufferers often describe it as a burning pain behind the breastbone that may move up toward the neck and throat, sometimes accompanied by a bitter or acid taste in the back of the mouth.

Frequent heartburn--at least once a week--may be a symptom of gastro-esophageal reflux disease, or GERD, a disorder that allows contents of the stomach to back up into the esophagus. The acidic contents of the stomach can erode the lining of the esophagus, aggravate asthma symptoms or cause a chronic cough, sore throat or laryngitis. The danger is that, if left untreated, GERD can lead to esophageal cancer.

Heartburn Triggers and Treatments. Despite the latest research that questions whether diet and lifestyle changes actually help treat heartburn, they remain the first line of defense against symptoms.

A widely acknowledged heartburn aggravator is extra pounds, which puts pressure on the stomach and relaxes the esophagus. Even being in the high range of normal weight can increase your risk of GERD by about 40%. And large meals, whether or not you're overweight, also put pressure on your stomach.

The key is to find out what aggravates your heartburn and avoid it. What sets your throat on fire may have no effect on someone else suffering from heartburn. Some foods are thought to relax the lower part of the esophagus, thus allowing acidic stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus; they include chocolate, peppermint, coffee and alcohol. Other foods sometimes mentioned as troublesome include garlic, onions, tomatobased foods, spicy foods and fatty foods.

A Dozen Heartburn Rules. Based on current research, EN recommends trying the following tips to help ease the burn.

1. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight aggravates heartburn.

2. Avoid big meals; abdominal distension and bloating aggravate symptoms.

3. Don't eat within three hours of bedtime.

4. Use blocks to raise the head of your bed six inches. Propping your head with pillows won't last all night.

5. Sleep on your left side. Research (and anatomy) suggests that left-side sleepers suffer less nighttime heartburn.

6. Exercise regularly to prevent reflux.

7. Eat fewer fatty and fried foods, which have been linked to heartburn.

8. Avoid salty foods; research has found a link between salt intake and reflux.

9. Eat high-fiber foods, like beans, lentils, whole grains, fruits and vegetables; research finds less reflux in people eating a high-fiber diet.

10. Avoid your trigger foods. Keep a food journal to identify them.

11. Try over-the-counter relief from antacids or H2 blockers (see below).

12. Have a doctor evaluate you for GERD if you get heartburn more than once a week or have a lingering cough, hoarseness or worsening asthma.

When Diet and Lifestyle Changes Aren't Enough

You've eliminated your personal heartburn triggers, you're exercising and eating fewer fatty foods and more fiber, but still the burn continues. It's time for extra help. If these over-the-counter options don't spell relief, see your doctor for stronger prescription drugs.

Antacids--Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Pepto-Bismol and Rolaids are usually the first nonprescription medications recommended to relieve heartburn and mild GERD symptoms. They work by neutralizing the acid in your stomach.

H2 Blockers--Tagamet HB, Pepcid AC, Axid AR and Zantac 75 provide short-term relief, but should not be used for more than a few weeks at a time. They work by blocking acid production in the stomach.

--Catherine Golub, M.S., R.D.
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Author:Golub, Catherine
Publication:Environmental Nutrition
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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