"Ugh! Heartburn again?" - Tame the Flameand Make Your Colon Happy, Too

4.19.2012

 

Surely everyone is familiar with the burning sensation that all too often accompanies the after-dinner mint following a heavy meal. You know the acidic taste you get in your mouth after burping? The pressure in your chest that makes you wonder if you just might be having a heart attack? That’s heartburn.

In a Q&A on Caring.com a reader asked, "How are heartburn and colon cancer related?" The answer gives us a clear indication that there is a probable link between heartburn and colon cancer. "A reoccurring heartburn can sometimes be a key sign towards determining a more severe case with digestive disorders. We all experience heartburn occasionally but a prolonged feeling of heartburn is likely due to another cause and needs medical attention as soon as possible."

According to MoreThanHeartburn.com, heartburn occurs when stomach acids splash up from the stomach into your esophagus. While over-the-counter medications like Tums and Prilosec are readily available to neutralize stomach acids and even boast the power to “stop heartburn before it starts,” knowing what triggers heartburn for you and modifying your lifestyle accordingly will not only tame the flame, but also help keep your colon healthy and happy.

Tips for Preventing Heartburn and Helping Your Colon:

  1. Limit or avoid foods and beverages that cause heartburn. Everyone knows that certain foods like tomatoes, oranges, and grapefruits, as well as spicy and fried dishes and caffeinated beverages like coffee and soft drinks, trigger heartburn. If you know any one of these foods or drinks sets off heartburn for you, limit their consumption or at least avoid them on a full stomach. What you might not realize is that foods high in fat like cheese, nuts, and meat are also heartburn culprits. According to WebMD, fat “slows down the emptying of the stomach, so there is more opportunity for a big distended stomach—which increases pressure on the esophageal sphincter—to make heartburn more likely.” Fatty foods sit in your stomach longer, producing more stomach acids and thereby triggering heartburn. A high-fat diet has also been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. Prevent heartburn and decrease your odds of developing colon cancer by limiting your intake of fatty foods and eating a fiber-rich diet.
  2. Limit alcohol consumption. Another problematic heartburn trigger is alcohol, especially when consumed during a heavy meal. Alcohol relaxes the sphincter muscle between the esophagus and stomach, allowing stomach acids to come back up into the esophagus. It is also linked to colon cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, bacteria in the colon and rectum convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, a chemical known to cause cancer in lab animals. You should drink alcohol in moderation to keep heartburn and colon cancer at bay.
  3. Curb overeating and avoid late-night snacking. To minimize your chances of heartburn, eat 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day instead of 2 or 3 larger meals. This will ensure that your stomach is able to digest properly the foods eaten. Overeating puts you at risk for a distended stomach and, consequently, heartburn. Also, be sure to allow 2-3 hours between eating and lying down because a supine position on a full stomach exacerbates heartburn. That may mean dropping the nighttime refrigerator run.
  4. Lose the spare tire. As mentioned earlier, a diet high in fatty foods can contribute to an increased risk of heartburn. By modifying your eating habits to incorporate more fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like chicken and fish, and whole grains and by minimizing your intake of fatty foods like cheese, red meat, and eggs, you will lose weight and also significantly diminish your chances of getting heartburn. That’s because excess weight puts pressure on your abdomen, causing stomach acids to back up into your esophagus. A healthier weight brought about by a high-fiber diet and regular exercise will not only decrease your middle, taking pressure off your stomach, but also make your colon very happy.
  5. No smoking! According to the Mayo Clinic, smoking has been shown to decrease “the lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly.” Such a compromise only increases your tendency to develop heartburn. But nonsmokers are also at an advantage when it comes to colon health too as recent studies have linked long-term smoking to an increased risk in developing colorectal cancer. Tame the flame and maintain a healthy colon with these simple but effective lifestyle changes.