November 27, 2013—For many Americans, the Thanksgiving holiday brings thoughts of family, gratitude, and of course, food and more food. However, too much of a good thing (or bad thing) in the food department can lead to heartburn and indigestion, says Seth A. Gross, MD, director of endoscopy at the Tisch Hospital, NYU Langone Medical Center.
Heartburn is the hallmark symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that occurs when acidic juices from the stomach back up into the esophagus. Heartburn and other GERD symptoms can be caused by a number of factors, some of which can be related to diet and lifestyle.
According to Dr. Gross, a few simple dietary and lifestyle tips can help many people reduce the occurrence of heartburn. For example, eating large meals or portions can increase acid reflux into the esophagus. Similarly, certain types of foods—such as fatty foods, spicy foods, and caffeine—can trigger heartburn and reflux for some people. “We don’t want to deprive anyone of their holiday festivities, but keeping the portions smaller is definitely helpful in preventing or reducing heartburn. In addition, knowing which foods trigger heartburn for you is key. The dietary triggers for heartburn are highly individualized, and what causes heartburn for you, may not for someone else,” Dr. Gross explains. Other lifestyle measures that may help reduce heartburn include avoiding lying down for 2 hours after eating, and sleeping with your head in an elevated position.
“It is also important to note that, over time, chronic GERD can lead to injury to the esophagus and, in some cases, to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. In addition, heartburn and GERD can be caused not only by lifestyle factors but also by certain medical conditions,” Dr. Gross points out. Dr. Gross recommends that individuals for whom symptoms do not resolve with simple changes in lifestyle, or who experience persistent heartburn, see a gastroenterologist for evaluation and treatment.