Food affects the lower esophageal sphincter, as well as the amount of acid produced by the stomach. This means that the foods you eat can cause heartburn or make heartburn worse. Foods that relax the lower esophageal sphincter include high-fat meats (red meat), butter, fried foods, margarine, salad dressings, cream-based sauces, dairy products made with whole milk, caffeinated beverages, chocolate and products made with peppermint. Foods that cause or worsen heartburn include tomato juice, black pepper, spicy foods, soft drinks, drinks that contain caffeine, alcoholic beverages, citrus fruit and juices made with citrus fruit.
You may not need to completely eliminate these foods from your diet. Keep a food journal to document your heartburn. Make a note of the foods you ate before your heartburn started. Write down how much you ate and what time you ate. You may identify a pattern to your heartburn episodes. In some people, heartburn occurs if they eat these foods too close to bedtime or if they eat large portions. If you reduce your portion sizes and avoid eating close to bedtime, and you still experience heartburn, you should eliminate the foods that trigger your acid reflux.
Overweight and obese people have an increased risk of acid reflux because extra weight causes the lower esophageal sphincter to weaken. This weakness allows food and acid to back up into the esophagus, leading to feelings of acid indigestion and sour stomach. WebMD reports that even a weight gain of just a few pounds can increase the risk of developing acid reflux, making it necessary to control your weight in order to achieve your goal of preventing acid reflux. To lose weight safely, engage in a healthy diet and exercise plan that helps you lose weight at a rate of one to two pounds per week. Avoid quick weight loss scams and dietary supplements that do little more than empty your wallet.
One of the biggest ways to prevent acid reflux at night is to elevate the head of your bed. This prevents acid from backing up into the esophagus. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that this lifestyle change, along with weight loss, may be the single most important method of preventing acid reflux. Another way to prevent this condition is to avoid eating late at night. When you eat immediately before bed and then lie down in a sleeping position, it makes it more likely that the acid will back up into the esophagus.
Other lifestyle factors influence the development of heartburn. Stress, while not linked directly to heartburn, may cause or worsen this condition. Use relaxation techniques like meditation, deep tissue massage, Swedish massage and deep breathing exercises to relieve stress and reduce your chances of developing acid reflux. Tobacco smoke can also increase the risk for acid reflux, so quitting smoking can also prevent this condition. Discuss smoking cessation programs with a medical professional for information on how to stop smoking safely.
Several types of medications prevent heartburn by neutralizing stomach acid or blocking the production of stomach acid. Antacids made with calcium, aluminum or magnesium neutralize stomach acid, which prevents the acid from backing up into the esophagus. Common antacid brands include Alka-Seltzer, Mylanta, Rolaids and Maalox. These drugs do have some side effects, even though they do not require a prescription. The magnesium salt in magnesium-based antacids causes diarrhea, and the aluminum-based products can cause constipation. If these problems occur with antacid use, your doctor may recommend a product that combines aluminum and magnesium salts.
H2 blockers decreased the amount of acid produced by the stomach. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse indicates that these drugs provide relief for about half of the people who take them. Examples of H2 blockers include Tagamet HB, Zantac 75, Axid AR and Pepcid AC. Common side effects of these drugs include constipation, abdominal pain and diarrhea. If you experience unusual rash, swelling of the mouth or throat, or hallucinations, seek immediate medical attention.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
Proton pump inhibitors also inhibit the production of stomach acid. These drugs relieve the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease and can heal the lining of the esophagus in people who have chronic heartburn. Some common proton pump inhibitors include Prevacid, Aciphex, Prilosec, Zegrid, Nexium and Aciphex. MedicineNet reports that the most common side effects of proton pump inhibitors are constipation, headache, abdominal pain, rash, nausea and diarrhea.
Prokinetics strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter and cause the stomach to empty more quickly. Drugs in this class include Reglan and Urecholine. Because of the side effects of these drugs, they have limited use in treating acid reflux. The side effects include depression, problems moving, fatigue, anxiety and sleepiness.
WebMD: Even a Little Weight Gain - or Loss - Can Affect Your Heartburn
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
About.com: What Foods Should I Avoid if I Suffer From Heartburn?
eMedTV: H2 Blocker Side Effects
MedicineNet: Proton-Pump Inhibitors