7 Foods That Might Cause Heartburn | Hartford HealthCare

December 12, 2022

It happens after a late night meal or after that particularly spicy dish from a new ethnic restaurant – the burning in the chest. We’ve all been through that. One in four people has heartburn on a regular basis, and estimates may be low given that it only counts those who report problems to their doctor. In 2020, Americans spent almost $5 billion on drugs to relieve their pain. But is there a way to avoid (or reduce) your encounters with heartburn?
> Do you suffer from heartburn? Connect to Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Center

What Causes Heartburn?

The esophageal sphincter is a muscular tube that allows food to pass into the stomach and then contracts to prevent it from coming back up. It protects the esophagus from stomach acid. However, when the sphincter relaxes, food can push up through the loosened opening and cause acid reflux.

Get to the bottom of it

If you have frequent heartburn, says Jamie Allers, MS, RD, CSOWM, CDN, a registered dietitian with Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Center, it helps to be careful about what you’re eating before a heartburn attack. She also recommends writing down when you eat and how often you eat. “We’re often aware that certain foods are triggers for our heartburn, but how, when, and how often we eat can also play a role,” she says. “Small, frequent meals may be better tolerated, not eating too close to bedtime, and eating more slowly (chew well, eat mindfully) when eating can also make a difference.” > Want more health news? Text MoreLife to 31996 to sign up for text notifications

The usual suspects

Here are some foods known to trigger heartburn:

  • Spicy foods. Spicy foods contain capsaicin, which slows digestion and helps food stay in the stomach longer. It also irritates the esophagus, making symptoms worse.
  • Greasy food. Fat relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle that forms a barrier between the esophagus and stomach. Foods high in fat can make acid reflux symptoms worse.
  • Caffeine. You probably won’t have any trouble getting a cup of coffee every morning if you’re suffering from heartburn. However, multiple puffs of caffeinated foods and drinks throughout the day can trigger an attack.
  • Peppermint. Peppermint soothes the sphincter muscle that lies between the stomach and esophagus, which can increase the risk of heartburn.
  • Chocolate. When eating chocolate, serotonin is released, which makes people happy. Serotonin not only makes you happy, but also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Carbonated Beverages. Fizzy drinks expand the stomach. A bloated stomach puts more strain on the esophageal sphincter and encourages reflux.
  • Alcohol. Heartburn can be triggered by drinking wine, beer, or your favorite cocktail, especially after a large meal. Alcohol relaxes the sphincter and gives free rein to acid.

Many spicy foods contain capsaicin, which slows digestion and helps food stay in the stomach longer. The longer food stays in the stomach, the greater the risk of heartburn. Second, spicy food can irritate the esophagus, which can make heartburn symptoms worse.

When to the doctor

When heartburn is chronic, it can be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), an acid reflux disease. Left untreated, GERD can put you at risk for bleeding, ulcers, and more. A gastrointestinal doctor can diagnose GERD and prescribe medications to help manage symptoms.

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