About 40 percent of Americans suffer at least once a month from heartburn, or burning in the chest caused by stomach acid washing backward.
Beyond popping antacids after that huge fried burger at your next cookout, try these tips from the National Heartburn Alliance:
» Take regular pain seriously. Left untreated, chronic heartburn can lead to esophageal cancer. So if you suffer from heartburn several times a week or have pain severe enough to wake you up at night, see a doctor. Other symptoms include a sour taste in the mouth, coughing, wheezing and difficulty swallowing.
» Eat smaller meals, and chew slowly. Too much food puts pressure on the valve that separates the stomach and esophagus. » Avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Both relax the valve and also increase the production of stomach acid.
» Try eliminating common problem foods. Those include fatty meats, fried or spicy dishes, coffee, citrus fruits, sugar, chocolate, sodas, tomatoes and onions.
» After meals, chew sugarless gum or suck on a hard candy (but not peppermint, a common trigger). Extra saliva acts as a natural barrier to acid, which means drinking plenty of water also can help.
» Don't eat right before bedtime. Have your last bite at least two hours before you lie down for the night.
» Maintain a healthy weight. Extra fat in the abdominal area can push stomach contents into the esophagus.
» Change your sleep position. Raising your head or shoulders slightly (about four to six inches) can keep stomach acid where it belongs. Try putting blocks under the legs at the head of your bed or adding a small pillow. Some studies also have suggested that sleeping on your left side can speed up digestion.
» Loosen your belt. Tight clothing can force stomach contents where they don't belong.
- By Alison Freehling
"How to" is a weekly feature on health, nutrition and fitness. To suggest a topic, call 247-4789 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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