Foods that can cause heartburn

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

What is heart burn?

Acid juice is prevented refluxing into the gullet (oesophagus) by a valvular sphincter mechanism at the lower end of the gullet.  The fundus (globe) of the stomach with the lower end of the gullet due to its angular position forms a valve: meaning food entering the stomach is prevented from re-entering the gullet. Acid fluid refluxing into the lower gullet causes inflammation of the inner lining. The nerves are irritated and you experience severe burning feeling with shortness of breath and you panic as it mimics a heart attack.

Refluxing at the valve is not common other than in certain situations, such as lying down in supine position, and on the right side. Lying down on your left side prevents such eructation as the acid flows more to the fundus (globe) of the stomach.

If you are over-weight accept the valve to get incompetent and food and acid will reflux. Stay slimmer to avoid heart burn.

Certain foods can trigger it, but they’re not same for everyone. Eating too much can weaken the valve mechanism and you may experience heart burn. Like the Japanese eat always three quarter of the food they serve on the plate. Also try using smaller plates like the French to help trim your portions.

Do not shovel your food fast into your mouth. The three Gs- grab, gulp and go- don’t lead to good digestion and they can give you heart burn. This is quite common among those who order takeaway foods whilst sitting in the car at MacDonald’s or Kentucky’s- for the food to drive and eat on the away quickly. So always take your time, masticate your food well to mix with the alkaline saliva and swallow slowly.

Fatty foods tend to stay in your tummy longer-like eating a tasty spicy Chinese meal with lot of fat, salt, palm sugar and washing it down with red or white wine. You feel satisfied, but discomfort can cause heart burn when you lie down.

Baked, broiled, grilled or roasted foods are better than fried food for heart burn to avoid heartburn.

Skip high acid foods like foods with lot of tomatoes, sauces and citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits and lemons. Foods with vinegar like the pickles and in salads can trigger heartburn.

Spicy foods including chillies, pepper and hot sauces can scorch you from the inside. Be aware that onions, garlic can cause heartburn.

Mexicans seem to boil vegies and meat in water with little spices added during the cooking. They use olive oil which is soothing to the tummy. Frying is uncommon in their traditional cooking, unlike Sri Lankan cuisines.

Beverages like coffee, alcohol can cause heartburn. Alcohol relaxes the valve mechanism letting acid escape more easily into the gullet. Carbonated fizzy drinks bloat your stomach and can cause heartburn, too. Herbal teas milk and bottle water are better substitute to drink after a meal. No wonder Chinese keep sipping whist eating their noodles.

Chocolate has caffeine like coffee and be aware. Eat only a small piece, if you have to.

  • Aspirin and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs can cause heartburn.
  • Ice cream may relieve heartburn.
  • Eating chewing gum after a meal keeps your mouth making saliva. Alkaline saliva passing down may minimise the effects of heartburn.
  • High fibre diet with plenty of nuts, whole grains, vegetables and legumes can help decrease or prevent the likelihood of heartburn symptoms.
  • Baked sweet potatoes, broiled chicken, toast and cottage cheese are generally safe.

Conclusions: Eat small bland meals including anti-inflammatory vegies like cucumber, crucifers and leaves like spinach. Avoid inflammatory animal flesh. Keep your weight down and retire about two hours later after dinner.

If you feel discomfort drink some cool milk and eat sliced cucumber from the fridge.

Antacids like Mylanta, Gaviscon and other over the counter medicines are available that may give you relief. There are newer drugs like H2 blockers that reduce acid production in the stomach that may help the symptoms. These drugs have certain side effects.

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