About a week or so ago, I experienced an uncomfortable but familiar burning sensation in my chest after indulging a plate of leftover rotini pasta. I knew that I had been hit with a case of heartburn. Blessedly, I’m not a chronic heartburn sufferer but I do have family members who know this condition all too well. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with acid reflux, which is associated with heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
According to a 1999 report by the Archives of Internal Medicine, twenty-five million adults experience heartburn daily and more than $1 billion was spent on nonprescription heartburn remedies. Heartburn occurs when the esophagus is exposed to gastric acid because the lower esophageal sphincter, which normally prevents acid from entering the esophagus, becomes relaxed. The esophagus ain’t built to handle the acid like the stomach can. That burning sensation happens when sensory nerve endings are stimulated by acid reflux or esophageal distention. Acid reflux may be a sign of GERD, a chronic condition that may damage your esophagus. Certain types of food such as peppermint, onions, garlic, and alcohol may induce heartburn. Even body position (e.g. reclining or bending over) can stir that burn. And of course, lifestyle factors such as stress, cigarette smoking, and obesity may result in heartburn.
In my pre-vegan days, my roll of antacids was my best friend if I felt any sort of discomfort. Now, I try to really pay attention to the foods I eat, although I do have my moments (look, Mama needs chocolate cookies every once in a while or she goes batsh** crazy! 😉). Potassium-rich foods like sweet potatoes may be helpful because potassium causes the contraction of the lower esophageal sphincter muscles and prevents that acid from entering into the esophagus. Here are some other foods that may help halt heartburn for you:
Coming from a West Indian family, I have always been somewhat familiar with licorice and its medicinal purposes. But licorice is a well-known remedy for heartburn and other stomach ailments. Commercial licorice products come from the root extracts of the plant. The roots are reported to have demulcent, antacid, anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, expectorant, and antimicrobial activity. The sweet taste comes from the substance glycyrrhizin, which is reputed to be 50 times stronger than refined sugar. But glycyrrhizin may also cause severe hypertension. So deglycyrrhizinated licorice is the best bet for the benefits of licorice without those nasty side effects. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice works by increasing blood flow to damaged stomach mucous membrane to promote healing. Licorice contains antioxidant compounds like glabridin that prevent low-density lipoprotein. In addition, some studies suggest that licorice may be beneficial in treating other gastrointestinal disorders. For example, a 1995 study found that licorice reduced the number and size of gastric ulcers. Further, some research indicates that licorice extracts may suppress the growth of breast cancer cells. Occasionally, I really like this particular brand of licorice whenever I need a little extra help with heartburn.
I am not ashamed to admit that I have always loved seaweed. Some of the best eating times involve seaweed: Back in the late nineties, I remember ordering a kombu and tempeh combination at one of my favorite veggie restaurants back in the day, Angelica’s Kitchen (RIP). Or eating veggie sushi with my friends in the backyard of a restaurant on Carmine Street in the Village. Yeah, Mama’s that old. For our purposes, when I am referring to seaweed or marine algae, I mean the brown, green, and red algae like kelp, kombu, nori, or Irish moss. What is great about seaweed is that it does contain fiber but its not digested to any great extent in the gut. So that means easier digestion as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract. Seaweed contains nutrients such as vitamins A, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, B12, C, and E, and calcium, iron, zinc, copper, and iodine. If you’re a chronic heartburn sufferer, you are familiar with alginates that are derived from brown seaweed, which are used as an alternative to antacids. What’s more, most seaweed varieties contain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that are essential for growth and development. Additionally, seaweed is full of carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin as well as metabolites that have antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties. In fact, it has been reported that the polysaccharides from marine algae may inhibit the mumps and influenza B viruses. I like to keep it really simple with seaweed, so I did this mash-up of kelp, kombu, carrots, and broccoli for dinner.
I first heard about marshmallow root in my attempts to find a natural hair detangler. Marshmallow root contains mucilage that makes it oh so easy to run a comb through even the most wicked hair knots. But this plant is so much more than that. Some evidence shows that the roots may counteract excessive stomach acid that may result in that dreaded heartburn. Marshmallow root, like seaweed, is a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids like LA and ALA. More so, marshmallow root has antioxidant flavonoids such as kaempferol and other constituents like polysaccharides that show antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antitussive activities. For example, a 2011 study found that marshmallow root extracts may be effective in treating certain types of oral cavity bacteria. Further, a 2007 study showed that marshmallow root significantly reduced the coughing of hypertension patients. And some animal studies suggest that the polysaccharides from marshmallow root may reduce blood glucose levels. I like to use this particular brand when I need to get my marshmallow fix.
When I started going out with my husband, one of the first things he said to me was never give him anything with beets. Apparently, his mother ate a bit too much beets when she was pregnant with him and he came out the womb despising them. For those of you who are like him, I implore you to give beets are chance because they can absolutely be tasty and wonderfully healthy—I promise you! Beetroot contains nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium. In addition, beetroot also has phenolic compounds such as caffeic acid and bioactive pigments known as betalains that have high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Beetroot has nitrates that increase gastric blood flow, which may be beneficial in combatting heartburn. But please note that some studies link high nitrate intake with gastric cancer, so do your own research. Some research indicates nitrate-rich beetroot may be helpful increasing cerebral blood flow in young adults. And a 2010 study showed that beetroot extract alleviated pain and inflammation in osteoarthritic patients. This juice will make you a believer when it comes to beets.
So those are the foods that I use to douse heartburn–what do you use?