1) What causes heartburn?

“Heartburn” or acid reflux, occurs when pressure from your stomach triggers the opening of the lower part of your esophagus (called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)) and lets acidic stomach contents back up and cause burning of the esophagus. The pressure on the stomach can be caused by overeating, being overweight, having a hiatal hernia, or being pregnant. Many foods also trigger the opening of the LES, such as chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, gluten and wheat, fatty processed foods, and other inflammatory foods.

2) Why are acid blockers used to treat heartburn?

The majority of the time, heartburn is not caused by too much acid in the stomach. However, acid blocking medications are used to reduce the symptoms of acid reflux. If your stomach contents are not acidic, it will not burn the lining of your esophagus when you have reflux episodes. Therefore, the burning pain is resolved. This, however, causes other problems. When there is not enough acid in your stomach to digest your meal, food sits there and increases the pressure in your stomach, triggering the reflux. Also, without stomach acid, your body will not be able to break down and absorb essential vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin D, iron, calcium, zinc, and protein.

3) What are some steps to take to avoid and treat heartburn?

There are several important steps to take in treating heartburn. The first step is to figure out your food triggers/ food sensitivities and avoid them in your diet. You can ask your doctor for a food sensitivity test or experiment on your own. Secondly, slow down and enjoy your food, so you don’t over eat. Chew your food a minimal of 30 times before swallowing. This way, food is much more easily digested and can empty out of your stomach faster, thus decreasing pressure on the stomach. Thirdly, maintain a healthy weight. When you are a healthy weight, you will greatly reduce your chances of having a hernia and other pressure effects of the weight gain.

Answers provided by Dr. Sonja Fung of Live Well Clinic, offering primary care, holistic medicine and food sensitivity testing. If you have a health related question you would like addressed in a future Q & A, please email info@livewellclinic.org or call us at 760-771-5970.

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