Get Rid of Heartburn

By Martin Brown

Heartburn, like headaches and colds, is an equal opportunity annoyance. Regardless of age or gender, this condition brings a degree of misery to nearly all of us.

It happens to the fit, the unfit and all of us in between. For some, heartburn can be the bane of their existence. But before you throw up your hands and decide that there is absolutely nothing you can do about heartburn, other than popping the occasional antacid tablet, take a few moments to learn more about what heartburn is and the most likely foods and drinks that will set off an attack.

Heartburn, as I suspect you know, is a burning sensation centered behind the breastbone and this discomfort can be increased by lying down or bending over. Generally there is no cause to dash off to your doctor’s office or to an emergency room. Remember, however, that if your burning sensation feels more like a constriction inside your chest and it’s accompanied by shortness of breath along with pain in the shoulder, or arm, or jaw, it could be a heart attack. But about 999 times out of a thousand it’s far more likely that the cause of your discomfort is something you ate within the last few hours.

Now of course you can pop an antacid, but persistent heartburn should not be ignored. If heartburn is a frequent visitor in your life (two or more times per week) you should consider consulting a physician. But prior to doing that there are several things you should review regarding your diet. For it’s within those foods that you frequently enjoy that your problem most likely is found and can be corrected by the avoidance of one or more of these items.

First let’s look at beverages. Almost all sodas can trigger heartburn. It really doesn’t matter if it’s Coke or Pepsi, diet or sugar-packed. Many stomachs don’t appreciate your passion for carbonation and they let you know it with heartburn. You may suspect that coffee is high on the list of heartburn suspects, and you’d be right.

For most of us one cup a day is not a problem, but if you’re wearing out the office carpet between your cubicle and the break room’s coffee machine, coffee is likely source for your heartburn. Alcohol is also high on the suspect list. Not one glass of wine or beer, but two or more cocktails and your stomach may be saying, “no happy hour down here.”

Solid foods bring us another set of suspects possibly driving the heartburn express. That nice steak, pork loin, or duck, might look good on the plate, but meats that have a high fat content can be a handful for your stomach to digest and you might not find that out until several hours after dinner when you lay down for bed. And on top of that meat, if you like a generous helping of black pepper, that could be adding to your woes.

Dairy products, also high in fat, can cause problems as well. If you love cheese, go for a light spread and not a chunk. If you drink cow’s milk, switch to low fat or fat free. High fat milk is problematic for millions of adults who can tolerate lactose but simply can’t handle large doses of liquid fat.

And deep-fried foods–chicken strips, fish filets, and more, can be a pain in the gut as well. Finally, if you love chocolate, you may want to reconsider. It’s a triple threat with sugar, high fat, and cacao. All of which lands this sweet treat on the list of suspect foods as well.

Heartburn in reality is acid reflux, in other words acid coming out of your stomach and traveling back up your esophagus. If it occurs chronically, across a broad spectrum of foods including vegetables and fruits (not oranges, grapefruits, or pineapples, but low acid fruits such as apples, bananas, and melons) you should speak with a physician because you may be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which normally responds to specific medication, but in rare cases requires surgery to correct the condition.

Next week in part two, we’ll look at natural food solutions that often derail the heartburn express without any medication and expensive visits to the doctor or worse, an emergency room.


Martin Brown is the Heath Channel Editor for, and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right.

His next book, Fit in 50 Days, will be available May 2011.