You’ve got what feels like a three-alarm fire under your ribcage or at the top of your chest. Maybe you just overindulged in a gourmet meal or knocked down a chili dog with the works. You belch; maybe drink a little water, but the fire burns on. That after-dinner hell you’re experiencing is most likely heartburn.
What causes heartburn is actually a muscle in your lower esophagus falling down on the job. That muscle, your esophageal sphincter, usually opens to let food you’ve eaten pass to your stomach, then closes to prevent food and stomach acid from flowing back upward. However, in the case of heartburn, or esophageal reflux, the sphincter hasn’t closed properly, allowing the contents of your stomach to irritate your esophagus causing that burning sensation.
There are a number of causes of heartburn, including eating the wrong foods, stress, overeating, and obesity. In addition, the esophageal sphincter tends to get weaker with age, so just being on the wrong side of 40 can make you more prone to episodes of heartburn.
In Chinese medicine, heartburn is frequently caused by damage from emotions (stress and anger!), erratic or unhealthy eating or drinking, and overall depletion due to aging. In most cases, a Chinese diagnosis of a Liver/Spleen disharmony will be evident.
The Liver is the organ system that is responsible for the smooth and uninhibited movement of everything in your body. However, the Liver system is that which is most damaged by anger, stress, and unfulfilled desires. Damage to the Liver causes stagnation, and almost always overflows and affects digestion; in this case causing heartburn.
The good news, however, is that there are a number of things you can do to naturally quench the fires of heartburn. Also good news is that the irritation and damage to our esophagus can heal within a month or two, once the symptoms have subsided.
Some natural suggestions to help cool down heartburn include:
-Determine which foods are likely to cause heartburn and eliminate them from your diet. Some common offenders include onions (especially raw), coffee, spicy meals, alcohol, citrus fruits and strawberries, mint, chocolate, and fried or fatty foods.
-Eat smaller meals so your esophageal sphincter doesn’t have to work overtime.
-Respect the laws of gravity and sit up for a couple of hours after eating.
-If your heartburn symptoms seem to be worse at night, try sleeping with your head elevated. You can do this by placing the head of your bed on blocks that are four to six inches high.
-Try 1/8 of a teaspoon of baking soda mixed in a few tablespoons of water to quickly neutralize stomach acid.
It is also important to know when to check with your M.D. If you have heartburn symptoms daily, suffer from a lot of belching or bloating, or if symptoms seem to be worse when your stomach is empty, get it checked out by your doc. Also, if you have what feels like heartburn accompanied by difficulty or pain swallowing, chest pain or pain radiating to the neck and/or shoulder, vomiting, bloody or black stools, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness, get to your doctor right away. Your symptoms may be more than simple heartburn and need to be evaluated by a doctor.