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Make That Elephant on Your Chest Go Away
Written By : Mark Rosenberg, MD 
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Bloating, burping, sour taste in your mouth, and stomach or chest pains, these are some of the frequent complaints that bring patients to my office. If you are one of the approximately 60 million Americans who suffer from heartburn, you'll know what I'm talking about. The horrible burning sensation in the middle of your chest is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). It occurs when hydrochloric acid backs up into your esophagus, which is the tube between your mouth and stomach.

Don't ignore your symptoms of GERD. If they last more than two weeks, you should see your doctor. Left untreated, GERD can affect the lining of your esophagus, creating a condition called Barrett's Syndrome - a condition in which the esophagus forms new types of cells similar to those found in the intestine. In some rare cases this can lead to a deadly type of esophageal cancer.

Popular GERD medication is over the counter or prescription antacids. However, over reliance on antacids can lead you into even more problems. Taking more than the daily dose can worsen your heartburn symptoms because when your stomach receives the antacid it has to turn on the acid pumps to break down the ingredients, such as calcium carbonate. The increased stomach acid aggravates your heartburn, so you take another dose of antacid. To counter the increased hydrochloric acid being made and rising up your esophagus, your stomach is stimulated to pump out even more acid. And the vicious cycle goes on and on and on.

You Decide - Cheesecake or Comfort?

The good news is that heartburn is treatable and preventable. For immediate relief try drinking a large glass of water. Sleep either sitting up or raise the head of your bed so your upper body is elevated. Wait at least three hours after eating before you lie down.

Two, counter-intuitive, time-tested natural remedies involve consuming vinegar. Eat a dill pickle or drink raw (not distilled) apple cider vinegar. When you put acid back into your stomach it lowers the pH levels and your stomach stops creating hydrochloric acid, thus ending the vicious cycle I mentioned above.

Wear loose fitting clothing. Tight belts put pressure on your abdomen, which can cause the food and acids in your stomach to reflux.

Take a look at your diet. Certain foods can bring on heartburn; try avoiding all of them until your discomfort goes away. Later you can re-introduce these foods, one at a time, in small quantities, and if you don't get heartburn from a particular food, you can include it in your moderation.

The following foods and drink can aggravate or bring on heartburn.

Acidic fruit or juice, caffeine-containing products,carbonated beverages, high fat content foods, such as fatty meat and dairy products, fried foods, gravies and rich sauces, onions (especially raw), peppermint and spearmint, highly spiced and seasoned foods, sugar, chocolate, tobacco, and tomatoes. Let us not forget one of the worse culprits...alcohol.

The War of Good versus Bad Bacteria

One of the best ways to prevent heartburn is to keep your gastrointestinal tract in good working order. You can do this by consuming moderate sized healthy meals so food doesn't sit around undigested in your body affecting your immune system and limiting your ability to fight off illness and disease.

Your intestinal tract should contain a minimum of 85% of good bacteria, called probiotics, to combat bad microorganisms such as salmonella and E. coli. Unfortunately, most people have more bad bacteria than good. However, you can increase your good bacteria by ingesting probiotics from natural food sources or supplements. Words to look out for on dietary labels are acidophilus (found in yogurt), flax seed extract or oil, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and bifidobacterium longum.

Take care of your digestive system - as the saying goes, "you are what you eat." Overeating, and eating heavy, fatty, indigestible foods, will come back to haunt you...night after night. You can control what you put into your body then make sure that the food already in your stomach has the digestive tools to give you relief.

Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Institute For Healthy Aging

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