When we think of heartburn causes, we tend to think of a series of bad habits, from going gung-ho on red meat to being a little too friendly with booze.
But the issue can happen to anyone – in fact, 25% of the UK population have dealt with the sensation according to charity Guts UK.
Backing this up is new research commissioned by Nexium Control, which found that 49% of 25-45 years olds suffer from frequent heartburn.
If you’re in that number, what might be triggering the fiery pain, aside from the usual suspects? WH spoke to leading nutritionist Lily Soutter about the lifestyle triggers pulling the heartburn gun, that you might not know about.
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Heartburn causes: from flat whites to the way you eat
You’re super stressed
Yep. ‘Your mind and body are connected,’ explains Soutter. ‘The vagus line between your brain and gut can affect the way we feel. When we’re anxious or stressed, this affects our gut health.’
Short story: stress can cause your stomach to create more acid, which in turn causes heartburn.
This explains why 36% of frequent heartburn sufferers in the afore mentioned study said that worry, stress and anxiety triggers the condition.
Another fun thing for the list. Heartburn in pregnancy is very much a thing. Why? Rising level of progesterone allows more stomach acid to your esophagus, which causes the feeling.
The way you’re eating needs some work
‘It’s not just about what, but how we eat,’ says Soutter.
Straight up: many of us are on the go or easily distracted while eating (don’t tell us that you’ve never thrown tagliatelle at yourself while scrolling Insta).
Problem is: ‘poor gut health happens when food is not digested properly.’ Eating quickly can cause stomach acid to travel up to your esophagus, causing heartburn.
‘Eating mindfully at the table so putting your knife and fork down after a bite and chewing each bite ten to fifteen times will help,’ advises Soutter.
You’re eating too much at a time
As the mind reflects the body and vice versa, Soutter recommends not to having too big a portions.
‘If you’re having heart burn after every lunch or dinner, you may want to check your portions. Eat a little less the next time you have a meal and see if that has any impact’.
‘Eating habits play a role in triggering heartburn symptoms. In particular, large meals can delay gastric emptying which can put internal pressure on the stomach.’
‘Stomach acid can then get pushed back into the oesophagus, which may contribute to acid reflux.’
You’re exercising in a way that’s causing your stomach acid to jiggle about
Though exercising regularly is imperative to a healthy lifestyle and happy mind and body, movement in the short term can irritate and flare up your heartburn says Soutter.
‘This is usually dependent on your BMI. If yours is on the higher end, then intense movement may be trigger for heartburn as pressure on your oesophageal sphincter may flare up the acid in the stomach itself.’
Yet exercise in the long run is a positive thing and important to remember when dealing with heartburn as you will in return lose weight and your heart burn will be less reminds Soutter.
If you are experiencing heartburn after exercise, it may be worthwhile to look at the exercises you’re doing. ‘Some exercises may trigger heartburn due to the movement of the acid,’ says Soutter.
‘For example, doing certain yoga poses where you have to lie down on your back and doing hand stands or sit ups where your body is pushing against your oesophagus or if you’re doing high impact running where the acid could sweep up again may irritate and cause heart burn.
In this case, I’d recommend lower impact exercise such as walking instead of going to a spin class.’
You’re a spicy food lover
‘Spicy foods containing chilli and pepper have been identified as possible triggers for heartburn as they have been shown to increase gastric secretion.
It is also thought that they can act as a direct irritant to the oesophageal mucosa.’
You can’t put down the orange juice
Fruit and fruit juices are also thought to exacerbate heartburn due to their acidic nature.
Whilst the research is still developing in how citrus juice can cause heartburn, the amount of acid in these products might be a contributing factor says Soutter.
You’re going hard on the booze
‘Alcohol consumption has been shown to relax the lower oesophageal sphincter, which may trigger heartburn.
‘It has also been shown to slow gut motility, gastric emptying and increase acid secretion in the stomach, all of which contribute to heartburn.’
You’re a flat white fiend
‘Coffee is thought to relax the lower oesophageal sphincter, which may allow stomach acid to escape into the oesophagus and cause heartburn.
It’s unclear as to whether it’s the caffeine or another component found within coffee which is causing this, but it can be a trigger for heartburn.’
Switch your coffee for soothing herbal tea such as ginger or chamomile.
You grab the dark chocolate at 4pm, sharp
‘Due to the high content of theobromine found in chocolate, this may relax the lower oesophageal sphincter allowing stomach acid to escape into the oesophagus resulting in heartburn.’
You live for fried foods
‘Many people find it hard to digest fatty or fried food and it can be a top trigger for those suffering with heartburn. High fat foods can delay gastric emptying, which increases stomach pressure and in turn can cause heartburn.’
The good news is that there are healthier options available that can satisfy our cravings and keep hunger at bay. For example, switch your regular crips for low fat baked crisps and swap your ice cream with low fat frozen yogurt.
You’re having your dinner too close to bed time
‘If you really want to keep heartburn away, research suggests that you should wait at least three hours before lying down. Lying down too soon after eating tilts the stomach, which allows the stomach acid to spill into the oesophagus and is common cause of heartburn.’
Dealing with heartburn causes: the topline
Changing your diet is a step towards managing your heartburn yet with our social calendars, we can’t always predict the types of food and drink that’s available to us when we eat out.
A combination of diet, lifestyle changes as well as medication are the gold standard when trying to manage your heartburn symptoms.
But, of course, book in with your GP if your heartburn is giving you serious grief.