One of out every ten Americans suffers from heartburn: that gnawing, burning, sickening feeling that seems to strike late at night after eating a meal high in fat, sugar or spicy processed foods. Heartburn is associated with everything from GERD to Crohn’s disease. The pain from heartburn is so intense that many people are afraid they are having a heart attack. The good news is that through natural eating of unprocessed foods and using the food combining system of eating, heartburn will quickly become a part of your past.
Heartburn occurs when you have an irritation of your esophagus caused by stomach acid. The lower esophageal sphincter muscle, the LES, usually keeps this acid in your stomach. But when the Les opens too frequently or doesn’t close all the way, stomach acid seeps into your esophagus. It creates a burning sensation in your chest right below your breastbone or in your upper abdomen. Problems with the LES usually happen because your stomach is too full of food or there’s too much pressure on it.
Certain foods are known to relax the LES, including citrus fruits, garlic, tomatoes, alcohol, caffeinated products and chocolate. Dishes that have a high fat or oil content and certain medications can also cause heartburn. Lack of sleep and stress contribute to heartburn, and smoking is a major contributor because it stimulates stomach acid.
While infrequent heartburn is usually no cause for alarm, recurrent heartburn is different. It is diagnosed as gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) and can cause serious complications and damage the esophagus. If heartburn occurs more than twice a week, causes difficulty in swallowing or doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medication, make an appointment to see a doctor.
If the burning sensation is accompanied by dizziness, jaw or shoulder pain, cold sweats or a feeling of tightness, seek medical help immediately to make sure it isn’t a heart attack. Also see a doctor immediately if you are vomiting blood or a black, coffee-ground looking material, you have bloody or black diarrhea, have extreme pain or have lost a severe amount of weight.
Your doctor may order one or more procedures to rule out some of the more serious causes of heartburn. One of these tests is an endoscopy, where a thin rod with a camera attached is slid down your throat so a doctor can see your esophagus. An X-ray can also show your esophagus. If you have unusual symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath, a 24-hour esophageal pH probe study may be performed. A narrow, flexible tube is inserted through your nose down into your esophagus, depositing a probe that stays there for 24 hours to measure your acid levels.
If nothing abnormal shows up in your tests and you are diagnosed with heartburn, the doctor will probably prescribe one of two types of medications. A histamine-2 blocker stops your body from producing as much stomach acid, which is helpful for treating heartburn but not as effective for esophagitis. Proton pump inhibitors block acid more effectively and much longer than histamine-2 blockers. Antacids may be suggested in conjunction with these medications for more effective treatment.
Although these medications are certainly helpful in treating heartburn, they can have side effects such as headache, nausea, gas, diarrhea, constipation or congestion. These side effects can be mild or they may seriously affect your quality of life. If you have experienced side effects from these medications or you just want a natural way to treat your heartburn from the start, changing your eating habits through food combining and eating unprocessed healthy food is the best place to start.
While many of the foods that can cause heartburn are natural foods like tomatoes, garlic and citrus fruit, there is a right way and a wrong way to eat any food. Fatty and fried foods stay in your stomach for a long time, leaving it stuffed and struggling to digest the heavy meal of steak and French fries you just put in it. And when you eat foods that clash in your stomach the way proteins and starches do, the result is not only heartburn but also possibly diarrhea or constipation as well.
With food combining, you learn what types of foods go together and what should be avoided. You will understand why eating BBQ ribs is bad (mixing sugar and protein) and why you shouldn’t eat corn with your chicken (mixing a starch and a protein). When you combine proteins with non-starchy vegetables or only eat one type of protein in a meal, your stomach’s digestive enzymes will work together and not against each other. Your food will digest faster and your stomach won’t have to produce as much acid. The result? A healthy digestive system, with no diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome or heartburn.
Start food combining and eating healthier foods today. Your stomach and heartburn will thank you for it.