What is heartburn?
This is a simple lesson in gravity, which usually helps to keep stomach acid where it belongs. Because we enjoy longer weekend lie-ins or spend more time lying on the couch watching TV during winter, when we're lying down its that much easier for stomach acid to leak into the esophagus.
Solution: If you're planning a pyjama-day with a good novel, or settling in for a Netflix binge complete with coffee and biscuits, keep your upper body propped up on a pillow. Also, if you often experience heartburn at night, consider raising the head of your bed by about 15cms and sleep on your left side as it helps reduce acid reflux.
What causes heartburn?
Between your stomach and esophagus is a valve surrounded by a band of muscle known as a sphincter which tightens and releases as required. When food moves down from the esophagus into the stomach, this sphincter muscle relaxes and the valve opens to allow the food in. Then the muscle tightens and the valve closes tightly. Sometimes, the sphincter muscle relaxes slightly for some reason or the valve leaks, letting stomach acid splash back upwards, causing heartburn. This can happen at any time, but the winter months see an increase in heartburn rates.
What is the link between winter and heartburn?
Essentially, changes in our diet and lifestyles lead to more heartburn episodes:
- We indulge in long lazy lie-ins
This is a simple lesson in gravity, which usually helps to keep stomach acid where it belongs. Because we enjoy longer weekend lie-ins or spend more time lying on the couch watching TV during winter, when we’re lying down its that much easier for stomach acid to leak into the esophagus.
Solution: If you’re planning a pyjama-day with a good novel, or settling in for a Netflix binge complete with coffee and biscuits, keep your upper body propped up on a pillow. Also, if you often experience heartburn at night, consider raising the head of your bed by about 15cms and sleep on your left side as it helps reduce acid reflux.
- We’re far less active
Aside from the darker mornings and evenings, let’s be honest, getting up to go to the gym or head out for a walk or run when the temperatures are in single or low double digits takes a lot more motivation than many of us possess. Being less physically active means our metabolism and digestion are slower and this, coupled with consuming more acid-forming winter foods and drinks, can lead to more frequent episodes of acid reflux.
Solution: Try to maintain a regular exercise regime throughout winter. A daily 30-minute brisk walk is all you need to rev up your metabolism and get your digestion working more efficiently.
- But sometimes we’re too active, too soon:
Remember when you were growing up and your mother made you wait an endless 20 minutes after a meal to ‘let your food settle’ before you could rush out to play, ride your bike or swim? She had a good point: Bending, lifting heavy items, or straining the abdomen through exercise too soon after eating is another frequent heartburn cause.
Solution: Wait those 20 minutes like mum always said. And when doing strenuous tasks, lifting things or anything that could strain the abdominal muscles, remember to use good form and posture.
- We eat more comfort food
Winter months find us consuming fattier cuts of meat, spicier dishes, cream-laden sauces, pastas and soups, red wine, coffee and chocolate, all of which are common heartburn triggers.
Eating a big meal of fatty or creamy foods also slows down digestion, resulting in that food staying in your stomach for longer. This can create gastric pressure on that valve and sphincter muscle, causing some of the stomach acid to leak back up into the esophagus.
- Go easy on the rich sauces, spicy dishes, fatty meals and fried and greasy foods.
- Eat small meals to reduce the workload on your stomach.
- Eat slowly and sit up straight (slouching also puts pressure on your stomach and causes reflux).
- Include a few days every week where you eat lighter meals, including more steamed or fresh, raw vegetables.
- Cut back on drinks containing caffeine.
- We change up our drinks orders
South Africa has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in the world, with beer topping the list followed by wine, whiskey and brandy. On chilly winter evenings, we tend to favour red wines and stronger spirits that warm us up and pair better with the richer foods we’re eating. Due to its acidic nature, alcohol is a key factor in acid-reflux and heartburn. In addition, alcohol consumption has been shown to relax that sphincter muscle controlling the valve into the stomach, again allowing stomach acid out and giving rise to heartburn.
Solution: Reduce the number of days a week that you drink alcohol and when you do, drink in moderation and make sure to have a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks.
- Our clothes might be too tight
Tight fitting clothing – tight fitting jeans, belts, or even tight workout clothing – can put pressure on your abdomen, in turn forcing the food and acid in your stomach up into the esophagus.
Solution: This is pretty simple, avoid clothing that’s too tight around your stomach or abdomen, and if you’re dressing to go out to dinner sit down to test if your clothes are likely to feel too constrictive around your middle throughout the meal.
Natural ways to treat acid reflux and heartburn:
- Reduce your acidity levels. Since much of what we eat and drink in winter is acid forming (meat, dairy products, refined grains and processed foods, sugar and alcohol) which exacerbates acid reflux and heartburn, it’s important to increase our intake of alkaline minerals (calcium, magnesium and potassium). Taking a daily dose of A.Vogel’s Multiforce Alkaline Powder can help the body remove excess acidity and reduce the frequency and severity of heartburn.
- Oops! Too late, you’ve just come home from dinner and the heartburn’s already kicked off! No problem, a heaped teaspoon of Multiforce mixed into a big glass of water will help to ease the heartburn quickly and let you get a good night’s sleep.
- Indigestion and heartburn often go hand in hand. Additional symptoms of indigestion include fullness during or after a meal, burping, bloating and gas, digestive discomfort and pain, and feeling nauseous. A.Vogel’s Indigestion Formula offers acute treatment of heartburn, indigestion and associated symptoms, helping to balance excessive stomach acid, promote healthy secretion of digestive fluids to improve digestion, reduce discomfort and combat the effects of overindulgence.
- If you often experience indigestion, especially after eating fatty foods, did you know it could be due to sluggish liver and gallbladder function? Both organs play an important role in digestion, notably the production of bile which is essential to break down fats. To help, A.Vogel’s Boldocynara is a herbal medicine that promotes liver function and the flow of bile (necessary to break down fat) and helps to treat symptoms of liver dysfunction like indigestion, nausea and raised cholesterol.
While uncomfortable and annoying, occasional bouts of acid reflux and heartburn are not harmful and generally caused by lifestyle factors that are easily addressed. However, if you experience chronic, long term or frequent heartburn it is advisable to consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner.