15 DOs and DON’Ts of Heartburn

Heartburn is a familiar foe. Roughly 50 percent of Americans feel the heat at least once a month; 20 percent suffer from symptoms two or three times a week and have chronic heartburn or GERD (short for gastroesophageal reflux disease). Here are 15 Dos and Don’ts of Heartburn:

Do find out the root cause of your heartburn. Many things stress, food allergies, structural problems with your esophageal sphincter can cause or exacerbate the problem.

Do consider raising the head of your bed. Elevating your noggin keeps the contents of the stomach from sliding up against the LES (the sphincter that separates the esophagus from the stomach) while you sleep. Put a 4-by-4-inch piece of wood under the top two legs of your bed. A foam wedge under the mattress may also work.

Do chew thoroughly. Chewing aids digestion by breaking down food and mixing it with digestive enzymes and probiotics in the mouth.

Do consider natural chewing gum after meals. In two recent randomized controlled studies, people prone to heartburn who chewed a piece or two of gum after a heartburn-provoking meal sidestepped the telltale symptoms. Researchers think it’s because the gum stimulates saliva production, which is alkaline. The saliva goes down the esophagus and helps protect the food tube and neutralize some of the acid in the stomach. (Avoid peppermint-flavored gum, which can actually increase the odds of reflux.)

Do chew a tablet or two of DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) 15 minutes before a meal, advises Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, clinical nutritionist and author of Digestive Wellness: Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion (McGraw-Hill, 2011). Licorice contains substances that decrease swelling (a swollen sphincter won’t close correctly) and increases the body’s ability to heal ulcers and inflammation.

Do eat smaller meals. The greater the volume of your meal, the higher the odds it will give you heartburn simply because of the mechanical pressure the weight of the food puts on the LES.

Do encourage the proliferation of dietary enzymes and good bacteria by eating fermented foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, raw cheeses, sauerkraut, lassi, miso, tempeh and kombucha.

Do take a cue from ancient culinary traditions and build a digestive boost into the meal. Nibble on shavings of pickled ginger, spoon up some tangy Indian chutney or savor an umeboshi plum (a pickled fruit found in the Asian or macrobiotic section of the health-food store). “Somewhere along the way, Western cuisine lost those built-in digestive aids,”ť says Lipski. “Adding one of these foods to your meal can go a long way to stopping heartburn before it starts.ť”

Do pay attention to what you consume. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to keep things moving. When cooking meat, choose to grill, broil or bake instead of pan fry or deep fry. Try goat’s milk dairy products, which contain less fat than cow’s milk and, as a result, are more easily digestible.

Do limit junk food. Processed foods are filled with chemicals designed to delay degradation and extend shelf life, and they may have hidden ingredients that do not agree with your GERD,” writes Jorge Rodriguez, MD, author of The Acid Reflux Solution.

Don’t wear your skinny jeans too tight. Constrictive clothing can put pressure on the abdomen. The squeeze can press the stomach’s contents up against the sphincter at the base of the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn.

Don’t eat within two hours before vigorous exercise. Too much vigorous exercise (like jumping rope or fast-paced jogging) can induce acid reflux, even in people who usually don’t suffer from the condition. If you’re at the gym on a full stomach, choose the cycling class over the hip-hop yoga.

Don’t lie down within two to three hours of eating. Gravity is your friend. Give the stomach plenty of time to empty its contents before you get horizontal.

Don’t eat foods that may irritate the inflamed lining of the esophagus, such as citrus juice, tomato juice and spicy foods.

Don’t suck on peppermints to combat the sour taste in your mouth. Peppermint can relax the esophageal sphincter muscle, which could exacerbate your problem.

How Do You Know If You Have GERD?

Heartburn is an occasional annoyance for millions of Americans. But how do you know when it has progressed to the next level and become chronic hearburn or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)? The experts at the American College of Gastroenterology put together a quick self-test to help you figure it out.

  • Do you often have one or more of the following:
    • Discomfort behind the breastbone that seems to originate from the stomach?
    • A burning sensation in the back of your throat?
    • A bitter acid taste in your mouth?
  • Do you have these problems after meals?
  • Do antacids provide temporary relief?
  • Do you take prescription heartburn medication but still have problems?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions more than twice a week, see an integrative physician for advice.


Claudia C.
Claudia C1 years ago

Thanks for the advice! Really need it.

Jeramie D.
Jeramie D2 years ago

It is going to be hard to give up garlic, onions, citrus, red wine and dark chocolate. All things I added to my diet to make me healthier, but not good for Gerd

Sheri P.
Sheri P5 years ago

thanks for the tips! @Bill, i've found that aloe juice helps me too!!

Bill K.
Bill K5 years ago

i find that aloe juice helps

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

karen n.
karen n5 years ago

organic honey seems to greatly sooth the throat for me-i use it every day

tiffany t.
tiffany t5 years ago

Do not take too many antacids: Calcium Carbonate overdose can cause heart problems, neurological problems and major GI upset. Ironic

Kamakshi Ramaswamy


Amanda M.
Amanda M5 years ago

Another reason I enjoy wearing men's jeans-not only are they vastly less expensive than women's jeans (not to mention they're more durable), but they don't constrict my abdomen, thereby allowing for better digestion.

I also make sure to not eat after 7 PM, but my husband still "grazes" at night-and he wonders why he wakes up with heartburn!

Since we live in a town with no big-name fast food chains and we've made a policy of eliminating processed foods and making as many of our foods (not just meals) as possible from scratch, I've noticed that the few times I indulge in something like McD's, it's enough to bring my metabolism screeching to a halt for the rest of the day. That's a testament to how little "food" is actually in that crap if ever there was one!

Val M.
Val M5 years ago