Digestion problems are a growing problem in the U.S., causing an increasing number of clinic visits and hospitalizations. Yet there's something about them that make it difficult to discuss them in polite company - leaving many unfortunate people suffering in silence.
Symptoms of reflux, such as heartburn, are common digestive problems experienced by most people. In a Swedish study, 6% of people reported experiencing reflux symptoms daily, while 14% had them at least weekly.
Heartburn typically involves a "burning feeling” rising up from the center of the abdomen and into the chest. This feeling may be accompanied by a sour taste, excess salivation or finding food or fluid in your mouth, particularly at night.
Pregnancy, some medications as well as alcohol and certain foods can cause digestive problems, specifically, heartburn.
Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter - a circular muscle that acts as a gate between the esophagus and stomach - does not keep its tone, allowing stomach acid to backwash into the esophagus.
Frequently occurring symptoms of reflux may indicate GERD, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease - which is a very common digestive problem. Along with being painful and inconvenient, GERD can harm the esophagus and even lead to esophageal cancer.
Typically, treatment includes drugs that reduce acid levels. However, these medications can be risky. In severe cases, surgeons may tighten a loose muscle between the stomach and esophagus to stop the upward flow of acid.
Surprisingly, avoiding tomatoes and spicy dishes don’t necessarily help to avoid reflux. While they are acidic, they're not "trigger foods”.
On the other hand, mint and anything containing mint oil, chocolate, deep-fried foods, coffee and alcohol have all been shown to trigger GERD. Of these, deep-fried foods are most likely to trigger an acid attack, since they're hard to digest.
Here are some further eating tips to avoid heartburn and other digestion problems:
- Increase your fiber consumption - some fiber types draw moisture into the gastrointestinal tract, while others add bulk or feed the good gut microbes. Aim to eat one whole fruit, four non-starchy veggies and both soluble and insoluble fibers - like beans, grains and nuts.
- Add ginger and fennel - ginger has calming digestive powers and may speed up passage of food from the stomach into the small intestine. Fennel is believed to relieve bloating and gas.
- Be careful with food preparation - instead of frying meals, you may want to try roasting, grilling or poaching instead. Use extra-virgin olive oil for cooking instead of butter or margarine.
- Be choosy with dairy - opt for goat's milk dairy products, which contain less fat and are easier to digest than cow's milk dairy.
- Eat like an Italian - the incidence of heartburn among Italians is only 14.8% compared to 42% in the U.S. Italians eat small portions in their meals and dessert is usually fresh fruit. Afterwards, Italian families usually take a walk together, which has been shown to aid digestion.
- Prescription drugs used to treat acid reflux, GERD and other digestive problems can cause headaches, nausea and diarrhea.
On the other hand, some natural supplements may be safe alternatives for long-term acid reflux relief. Look for a digestive supplement with ingredients chosen to help resolve your acid reflux problems without any dietary restrictions.