Heartburn is usually linked to acid reflux, which is the name given to when stomach acid travels up towards the throat. Alongside heartburn a person may also experience an unpleasant sour taste in their mouth, have a cough or hiccups that keep coming back, a hoarse voice, bad breath or bloating and feeling sick. A survey carried out by Nexium Control found 61 per cent of UK Brits suffer with heartburn. A massive 72 per cent revealed an episode of heartburn interrupts up to four hours of their day, and 40 per cent of people who suffer from heartburn are frequent heartburn sufferers, which means they experience it twice a week or more.
Some of the top causes of heartburn, the survey found, were eating rich or fatty foods, worry, stress and anxiety, eating or drinking too quickly, and eating or drinking late at night or just before they sleep.
The NHS adds heartburn and acid reflux can be made worse by being overweight, smoking and pregnancy.
So what can you do to get rid of heartburn?
On behalf of Nexium Control, nutritionist Lily Soutter shared her top tips for relieving the condition.
She said: “Heartburn can be a frustrating yet common condition. It is characterised by a painful burning sensation in the upper abdomen or behind the breastbone, which can put a dampener on anyone’s day.
“Fortunately, some simple dietary tweaks may help to control the onset.”
1. Eat smaller meals more frequently rather than two or three large meals
Eating until you’re overly full isn’t advisable for anyone, but particularly those suffering with the symptoms of heartburn.
Lily said: “Heartburn can be caused when the lower oesophageal sphincter doesn’t tighten as it should. Put simply, overeating can put internal pressure on the stomach and stomach acid can then get pushed into the oesophagus causing acid reflux.”
Lily’s top tips for reducing portion size: Eat off a smaller plate
- The larger the packet of food the more we tend to eat, choose smaller packets of food and you’re likely to consume less
- Eat more slowly; it takes at least 20 minutes for our brain to register that we may be full
2. Minimise alcohol
While it’s absolutely fine to enjoy your favourite tipple in moderation, if you’re serious about relieving your heartburn symptoms, alcohol should be considered and limited, said Lily.
“Alcohol can increase stomach acid and relax the lower oesophageal sphincter, both of which are causes for heartburn.”
To decrease your alcohol intake Lily said why not try:
- Spritzers – add sparkling water to your wine to decrease the overall alcohol content
- Vodka or gin with sparkling water and fruit infused water can be a good alternative
- Seedlip which is an alcohol free spirit
- Beetroot and red apple juice are great alternatives to high in sugar fruit juices
3. Fast eating and insufficient chewing
If you’ve been told to slow down when eating on a number of occasions, it may be time to engage in mindful eating.
Lily explained: “Digestion starts in the mouth and by slowing down and chewing thoroughly, not only will your enjoyment of food improve but so will your digestion.”
Top tips for mindful eating:
- Put your knife and fork down between each bite
- Chew each mouthful 10-15 times
- Avoid eating on the go
- Eat away from distractions such as TV, laptops or phone
4. Find your dietary trigger
Certain foods have been shown to trigger heartburn – common triggers include coffee, chocolate, citrus fruits and even spicy foods. However, it’s important to remember that we are all unique and triggers may vary from one person to the next, said Lily.
Top tips to find your triggers:
- Keep a food and symptom diary to see what is impacting your symptoms
- Eliminate suspect food or drink for two weeks, then re-challenge the food whilst noting symptoms
- If coffee is a clear trigger, switch to barley cup or calming herbal teas
- Ditch the heavy spices and flavour your foods with herbs such as oregano, thyme, chives, parsley and tarragon
5. Think about fibre
In the UK, we are currently advised to consume 30g of fibre per day, however as a population we are only obtaining 15-18g per day, which is only about half of our recommended allowance, said Lily.
She added: “According to epidemiological studies, the frequency of heartburn is negatively correlated with the amount of dietary fibre consumed. On top of this, a low intake of fibre has been shown to decrease stomach and gut motility as well as cause a delay in gastric emptying. Both of these factors may contribute to the risk of heartburn.”
Top tips to increase fibre:
- Choose fibre rich wholegrains over white refined carbohydrates
- Keep the skin on your potato and other vegetables
- Aim for your five a day
6. Minimise high fat foods
While many can find it hard to digest fatty or fried food before bed, those suffering heartburn really do struggle, said Lily.
“High fat foods can delay gastric emptying, which increases stomach pressure and in turn may cause heartburn.”
Top tips to limit fatty meals:
- Avoid deep fried foods
- Choose lean cuts of meat without the skin
- Use spray oil over bottled oil for cooking which helps to control portion size
- Bake or steam instead of fry
- Ditch high fat dairy for their low fat counterparts
7. Try a product to manage symptoms
Lily explained: “Lifestyle changes are great ways of managing heartburn but we cannot always predict the types of food and drink available to us when eating out, for example.
“A combination of diet and lifestyle changes as well as medication are the gold standard when managing heartburn symptoms. Try Nexium Control, just one tablet in the morning and you’ll be protected from heartburn all day.”
If heartburn persists it could be a symptom of cancer.