Are you one of the millions of Americans who suffers from heartburn attacks? It is estimated that 20 per cent of the country has heartburn problems, which if left untreated cause so much discomfort that you wonder whether a meal is even worth eating.
Heartburn, GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), and acid reflux are often treated as synonyms but there are things that differentiate them. Acid reflux is an “very common medical condition that may or may not be serious” and GERD is “the chronic, more severe form of acid reflux.” Heartburn is the painful or burning sensation and a symptom of both GERD and acid reflux. It is commonly associated with food, but not at all associated with the heart.
Well, only very slightly associated with the heart.
Don’t Go Burning My Heart
Heartburn actually occurs in your digestive system. Specifically, in the esophagus. It carries a burning sensation up from your digestive system sometimes all the way up your throat. Sometimes the pain is so severe that it’s mistaken for heart attack pain. That’s why most people treat heartburn in some way: antacids, baking soda, eating less spicy foods.
But is one of these common heartburn treatments leading to more serious problems? Researchers at Stanford University combed through electronic records of 2.9 million patients and found that those who take medication to suppress the release of stomach acid are 16 to 21 percent more likely to suffer myocardial infarction.
Commonly known as a heart attack.
What are these medications? They’re known as proton pump inhibitors, and the link to heart attacks is strong. Nicholas J. Leeper, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and vascular surgery at Stanford, and one of the authors of the study, suggests that everyone needs to know about these risks.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
The risks are with proton pump inhibitors like Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid, which are either (very commonly) prescribed or available over-the-counter. Although Leeper says that a larger clinical study is needed to see whether the drugs are actually causing more heart attacks, he still thinks everyone should be aware of these findings.
“We do think patients should (know) about their risks and benefits and should discuss their risk with their doctors,” he says. “The Food and Drug Administration should be aware of these findings.”
The danger doesn’t just affect “high-risk groups” like the elderly, it extends to anyone taking the heartburn medications. And because these meds are available OTC it is advised that you tell your doctor if you use these meds for longer than two weeks.
The medications at fault are the ones that work by blocking acid from getting into the stomach which reduces or eliminates heartburn. Meds like Zantac and Pepcid combat heartburn in a different way: by blocking histamine production in the stomach-lining cells. The Stanford study found no link between those medications and increased risk of heart attack.
The research goes on to say that proton pump inhibitors reduce the production of nitric oxide from the cells that line the inside of your circulatory system, including the heart. Lower levels of nitric oxide have long been associated with cardiovascular problems.
Natural Cures to Heartburn
Leave the proton pump inhibitors away on the shelf and reach for one of these natural cures instead. Your esophagus will thank you.
Diet modification: watch what you eat, keep a diary, and follow your heartburn trends. Then stop eating those foods.
Weight loss: another “I’ve heard that one before” suggestion, but it will certainly help. Being overweight causes undue stress to your system, such as an acidic stomach and inflammation.
Quit smoking: smoke weakens the immune system, causes chronic inflammation, and makes your body deal with problems that it shouldn’t have to.
Chewing Gum: produces saliva which calms the feelings of heartburn
Baking soda: ½ a teaspoon in a glass of water. If you get heartburn regularly baking soda isn’t the best cure because of its high sodium levels.
DGL Licorice: deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root tablets before a meal is a great way to ensure you won’t get heartburn. There are even brands that don’t taste like licorice!
Aloe vera: some natural aloe mixed into a glass of water has many stomach-healing properties.
Peppermint tea: I drink peppermint tea whenever my stomach is upset. It works for heartburn as well.
Melatonin: this common sleep-aid has been suggested to help with heartburn as well.
It is best to ask your doctor before starting any of these treatments on your own. However, many of these natural remedies and cures have heart-healthy properties as well, which makes them a considerably better choice than the proton pump inhibitor medications that may ultimately give you a heart attack.
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