Stress and heartburn

From responsibilities for work and family to a seemingly endless list of other obligations, life these days moves fast. So fast that according to a survey from the National Heartburn Alliance, over half of frequent heartburn sufferers believe that a hectic lifestyle or work-related stress contributes to their heartburn.

While stress has not been directly linked to heartburn, it can lead to behaviors that trigger heartburn, including unhealthy eating, smoking and increased coffee and alcohol consumption. During times of stress, normal routines such as exercise, meals, and sleep can also be disrupted.

Heartburn, which is caused when stomach acid ‘refluxes’ or flows backward into the esophagus, causes a searing pain or burning sensation beneath the breastbone. Here are some ways to control heartburn symptoms during hectic or stressful times.

Watch what you eat. When life gets busy, healthy eating habits often suffer whether it’s from eating ‘on the run’, grabbing fat-laden fast foods instead of preparing balanced meals or not taking the time to eat until late at night just prior to going to bed. When you’re stressed it’s important to eat properly, as stress can affect the movement of food through the digestive system and can cause acidic stomach contents to linger in the stomach allowing more time for acid reflux to occur. Make a point to:

• Eat smaller, more frequent meals. A full stomach can put extra pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which increases the chance that some of this food will reflux into the esophagus. Be sure to chew your food slowly
and thoroughly.

• Avoid eating meals and snacks at least 2-3 hours before lying down.

• Avoid or minimize intake of high-fat and spicy foods. Other heartburn triggers include chocolate, peppermint, onions, tomato sauce and caffeine.

• Create a calm environment during meal times. Avoid eating your meal while standing up (or worse, while rushing out the door).

• Try to maintain a healthy weight. Extra pounds mean more pressure on your abdomen — which can push up your stomach and cause acid to back up into your esophagus.

Watch what you drink. Limit consumption of alcohol and beverages containing caffeine. Not only can these products increase stress, but they can weaken the muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus, or the LES, which can allow the reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus.

Photo © Lever