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Handling Heartburn: Three Experts Share Their Best Tips

Lately I’ve been experiencing pain in my chest every time I eat, and I think it’s heartburn. How can I make it stop?

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Zoltan Rona, MD

It sounds like you may have excess stomach acid, which causes heartburn, or even an ulcer, caused by the H. pylori bacteria. There’s a chance your symptoms could also be signs of angina, or heart disease. Both stomach ulcers and heart disease can cause chest pain, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath. See your family doctor for a diagnosis before you start any treatment.

If your doctor has diagnosed stomach hyperacidity, he or she may prescribe dietary changes and antacid medications. Heartburn is made worse by cigarettes, caffeine products and, in some people, dairy products and grains.

Natural-health-care practitioners would recommend taking a chewable tablet called deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) root extract before meals. DGL protects the lining of the stomach and duodenum, or entryway to the small intestine, by spurring goblet cells to secrete more mucin. The amino acid L-glutamine, available as a supplement, helps offset and repair the damage caused by H. pylori bacteria and relieves ulcer symptoms. Check with your health-care provider for individual advice.

Dr. Zoltan Rona (@drzoltanrona) practises complementary medicine in Toronto, edits The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing and is the author of Rheumatoid Arthritis and the bestseller Return to the Joy of Health.

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Julie Daniluk: Nutritionist

You are not alone. Heartburn affects one in three Canadians and is caused by stomach acid irritating the esophagus. A valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, keeps stomach acid contained. If that valve opens too often or fails to close tight enough, stomach acid can reflux back up the esophagus. Heartburn gets its name from its characteristic burning discomfort in the upper abdomen or below the breastbone. Overeating is a main cause, but certain foods can make heartburn worse by relaxing your LES, including tomatoes, citrus, garlic, onions, chocolate, coffee, alcohol and peppermint. Carbonated beverages and rich, fatty foods also stress the digestive system and increase the risk.

Write down what you’ve eaten to help pinpoint what foods trigger symptoms. Start by eating smaller baked meals to reduce fat. Finish dinner at least three hours before bedtime. You can reduce inflammation of the esophagus with aloe vera juice. Chewing a natural, fruit-flavoured gum stimulates the production of saliva, which pushes stomach acid back down the esophagus.

Toronto-based certified nutritionist Julie Daniluk (@juliedaniluk) co-hosts the reality cooking show Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network and is the author of Meals That Heal Inflammation.

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Amanda Vogel, Fitness Instructor

First, see a doctor immediately about chest pain. If you receive a firm diagnosis of heartburn, then you might want to help manage this condition with exercise. Heartburn can be associated with wearing clothes that are too tight around the waistline or being overweight or obese. Regular cardiovascular exercise-at least 30 to 60 minutes at a moderate pace, five times a week-can help you slim down and prevent unwanted weight gain. In a phone survey of 2,000 adults, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a hectic day at work and home was self-reported as a major contributor to heartburn. Exercise such as brisk walking, weightlifting and yoga helps quell daily stress. However, since heartburn can act up when you’re lying down, modify or skip any moves that make it worse, such as sit-ups, downward dog or other inverted exercise positions. Avoiding a big meal before a workout can help, as well.

Amanda Vogel (@amandavogel), MA human kinetics, is a Vancouver-based certified fitness instructor and author of numerous books, including Baby Boot Camp: The New Mom’s 9-Minute Fitness Solution.