If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of heartburn—when food and stomach acid travel the wrong way, creating a burning sensation in your esophagus—you know that it’s as miserable as it sounds.
What heartburn can lead to is equally unpleasant, such as halitosis and even throat cancer. It’s not pretty, but luckily, there’s a lot you can do to prevent heartburn in the first place, with these easy tips. (Make 2016 YOUR year! Order Prevention’s calendar and get daily inspiration to live your best life.)
Know your food enemies.
Vast is the spectrum of foods that can trigger digestive problems: spicy foods, chocolate, peppermint, citrus, tomato-based foods, mustard, chili, and raw onions are all thought to irritate the lining of the esophagus. But what’s the major dietary factor in causing reflux? “Eating large, fatty meals,” says Jeffrey Alexander, MD, head of the esophageal clinic at the Mayo Clinic. That’s because fat softens the sphincter muscles, which seal off the lower esophagus. Without a tight seal, stomach acids can back up into it.
Be wary of beverages.
Carbonated beverages, fruit juices, alcohol, and even your morning java can contribute to heartburn. Caffeine also relaxes the esophageal sphincter, allowing acid to come up into the throat, says Amy Gross, MPH, RD, CDN, and a clinical dietitian at New York–Presbyterian Hospital. Keep track of which beverages affect you with a food journal or in a file on your cell phone or computer.
Drop a few pounds.
Overweight people tend to be the ones with digestive issues. “Increasing body mass index is associated with increased reflux, especially in the case of truncal obesity—big bellies,” Alexander says. The best lifestyle adjustment you can make is to cut down on fatty foods and lose weight. Exercise is important, he says, but certain exercises, like riding a bike bent over, aggravate reflux. Work out in a way that feels comfortable to you.
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