Healing Heartburn

Understanding and Easing Heartburn

The stomach has a marvelous design. Gastric acid is produced by glands in the lining of certain areas of the stomach wall. Acid not only helps break up the food, it also kills harmful germs that may be in the food. And the right amount of stomach acid helps maintain the balance of bacteria in the bowels. Lowering stomach acid with antacids can allow some of the bad bacteria to take over and outnumber the good, leading to diarrhea- producing illnesses from bacteria such as Clostridium difficile and Giardia. Stomach acid is your gut’s natural antibiotic. The stomach lining also naturally secretes a thick mucus that bathes the entire lining of the stomach, sort of like a protective paint, to keep the acid from digesting its own tissue. Yet, the very top part of the stomach, especially the lining of the esophagus, doesn’t share this protective sealant. So when the stomach is too full of food and acid, some of the acid can be squirted, or refluxed, back up into the lining of the esophagus, irritating or “burning” it. The esophagus is located behind the heart, hence the term heartburn.

There is no reason why prime timers should suffer heartburn more than younger folks. While digestion may slow down a bit in prime time, it doesn’t have to. The gut, like many other organs, has reserve capacity. We can lose a little bit of its function, and it won’t bother us. But if you do suffer from heartburn, try these eating tips:

Practice the rule of twos. In my medical practice, the top antireflux prescription for all ages is eat twice as often, eat half as much, and chew twice as long.

Drink some meals. A Prime-Time Smoothie can be just what the gut doctor ordered.

Don’t dine after nine. Eating earlier in the evening allows most of your digestion to take place before you lie down to sleep. Eating too much, too late, literally opens the door for reflux to occur.

Sleep on your left side. This allows gravity to better empty the stomach.

Stay lean. Increased belly fat increases reflux. The extra fat increases pressure on the stomach, which sends some food back up.

Use heartburn medication wisely. The acid in our stomachs is there for a reason. When we interfere with the natural process of digestion, we often pay an uncomfortable price. Modern heartburn medicines are designed to reduce or to shut off the production of stomach acids, and they have given wonderful relief to serious heartburn sufferers. But it’s harmful to take these heartburn medications in doses too high and for too long. Be sure to use the “start low, go slow” method: beginning with a low dose, increase the dose slowly as needed, and try to get off the medicine as soon as possible while following my Prime-Time eating tips.

One of the reasons why prime timers seem to suffer more from heartburn is their widespread use of aspirin, ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory pain relievers. These medicines are not stomach friendly. They lessen the protective mucus, thus making the stomach lining more vulnerable to attach by its own acids.