Acid reflux or heartburn has everything to do with your gut—and nothing to do with your heart. The irritation occurs when acid produced in your stomach travels up your esophagus because your lower esophageal sphincter (a ring of muscle at the entrance to your stomach, which closes as soon as food passes through) opens too often or doesn’t close all the way. When this happens, you may feel burning in your chest (hence the term “heartburn”), experience hiccups, burping, or nausea.
Aside from eating too much, lying down or bending over after a large meal, and taking certain medications, your diet is a major influencer. Certain foods are highly acidic and have certain properties that trigger the onset of acid reflux—they may relax the stomach muscles or act as an irritant. If you’ve ever experienced the discomfort of heartburn, take note if these foods are in your diet. If they are, pay special attention to when you eat them and if you experience the side effects of acid reflux 20 to 30 minutes after eating, in the midst of a workout, or as you’re lying in bed. If you do, exercise some common sense and limit your consumption—or pass the Tums.
The interesting thing about peppermint is it’s able to soothe an upset stomach, calm skin irritations, and even numb headaches, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The unfortunate thing is it relaxes your sphincter (that muscle separating your esophagus from your stomach), so it makes the symptoms of heartburn way worse by improving the flow of bile. You’re best off skipping that after-dinner mint if acid reflux is an issue for you.
Like peppermint, alcohol relaxes your muscles, allowing acid to move up your esophagus, according to research from the Journal of Zhejiang University Science B. And though research is a bit contradictory on the matter of beer or wine directly causing acid reflux, pairing a glass of red wine with a rich, high-fat meal could be the perfect recipe for heartburn disaster.
In a questionnaire of approximately 400 patients with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, 72 percent of respondents reported increased heartburn after drinking either orange or grapefruit juice, according to research published the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. Oranges, grapefruits, and their juices are very acidic, so they’re highly likely to cause heartburn—especially if you consume them on an empty stomach.
Topping your salad or burger with raw onion won’t just have a potent effect on your breath; it could increase your chance of suffering from heartburn, too, according to research published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. In a small test group of 30 people, onions increased the number of reflux and heartburn episodes as well as the frequency of belches in heartburn subjects.
Some spices are inherently irritating to the stomach lining because of their composition. In chili peppers, for example, the chemical compound capsaicin, which makes the pepper especially hot produces a burning sensation in any tissue it comes in contact with. Crushed red pepper, black pepper, chili powder, even garlic can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms. Use herbs like basil, dill, and thyme, which are milder, yet still flavorful.
Depending on your tolerance and sensitivity, caffeine can cause acid reflux, according to the McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Darker roasts have less caffeine, whereas light roasts have more caffeine. On the flipside, darker roasts tend to be a bit more acidic, which can aggravate acid reflux. Also take note of how soda affects the frequency of heartburn. Soda has caffeine, which may boost acid in the stomach, and it has carbonation, which can bloat the stomach and cause even more discomfort.
Fried, high-fat foods tend to linger in the stomach longer and decrease pressure in the sphincter—increasing your risk of experiencing acid reflux, according to McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. What’s worse, is if you eat a large portion—say you go overboard at your favorite fast food joint—you’re doubling your odds for triggering heartburn.