Usually when you swallow, a circular band of muscle at the bottom of your oesophagus relaxes, allowing food to flow into your stomach, then it closes. Heartburn happens when the muscle is weakened or relaxes abnormally, causing stomach acid to surge.
If it happens often and interferes with your daily life, heartburn is then considered to be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This can damage the oesophagus and lead to Barrett’s oesophagus, which in turn could lead to oesophageal cancer. Barrett’s is when the normal cells lining the oesophagus are replaced by a mix of intestinal lining and gastric cells.
Making some lifestyle changes could make a difference to how you feel.
• Lose weight: If you’re overweight, the additional kilograms could put pressure on your abdomen, forcing your stomach up and causing acid to back up. Tight-fitting clothing can also put pressure on your abdomen
• Avoid the triggers: You know what food and drinks trigger your heartburn, so avoid them (common triggers include alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, caffeine, fried and fatty food, tomato sauce) and nibble rather than overindulge
• Sit up: Avoid lying down directly after a meal – wait at least three hours and if your heartburn is severe, elevate your head to avoid night-time heartburn. Just puffing up the pillows won’t work; rig your mattress up to slant slightly.
Instead of glugging down copious antacids, which can cause upset stomach and constipation or diarrhoea, try some more gentle alternatives. Antacids can open you up to infection and reduce your ability to absorb vitamin B12. One study revealed that a combination of betaine hydrochloride, melatonin, l-tryptophan, vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin B12 and methionine completely relieved GERD symptoms in all participants.
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