Heartburn is a symptom of a digestive condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as acid reflux. Symptoms can be both extreme and painful and affect your quality of life. While tomatoes, chocolate, peppermint and alcohol can all trigger heartburn, many other foods can help tame heartburn and acid reflux symptoms.
Acid Reflux 101
GERD occurs when the stomach's digestive juices travel back up into the esophagus. Reflux is typically caused by a weakening or malfunction of the sphincter muscle on the bottom of the esophagus. Heartburn, which is a painful sensation in the chest, is a common symptom of acid reflux. Besides pain, you may also experience tightness or discomfort in the middle of the chest. In addition to heartburn, acid reflux symptoms can include nausea, a dry cough, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, a sore throat and bad breath.
Foods to the Rescue
Starchy vegetables such as parsnips and sweet potatoes can help treat acid reflux and heartburn. Starchy vegetables are alkaline, which means they help neutralize the acid in the stomach that contributes to acid reflux and heartburn. According to the book "Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure," whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur wheat and couscous can also help remedy acid reflux because complex carbohydrates can help soothe your stomach and prevent acid from traveling back up into the esophagus. In addition, oatmeal can help treat reflux because it absorbs acidity.
More Helpful Foods
Ginger root, which has been used for centuries to treat digestive conditions, can help ease heartburn and acid reflux. Ginger works by reducing inflammation in the digestive system and can also help treat acid reflux-related nausea. Fennel, too, is an effective food to treat acid reflux and heartburn because it helps improve the function of the stomach. In addition, parsley can help acid reflux symptoms by improving digestion and settling your stomach.
See your doctor if your acid reflux or heartburn doesn't go away or worsens, even after you eat heartburn-soothing foods. Your doctor can prescribe medications or even preform medical procedures to better treat your symptoms. Left untreated, acid can damage the cells of the esophagus and can cause conditions like Barrett's esophagus and dysplasia. In extreme cases, chronic acid reflux can contribute to cancer of the esophagus. A doctor can perform an endoscopy, which is a small scope that is inserted into the esophagus to test for any abnormal cell growth.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER) and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in Adults
- Rush University Medical Center: To Your Health: Has Your Heartburn Gone on Too Long?
- The pH Miracle: Balance Your Diet, Reclaim Your Health; Shelley Redford Young and Robert O. Young
- Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure; Jamie Koufman, et al.