To all of us who have experienced it (which is to say, virtually all of us), heartburn -- otherwise known as indigestion or acid reflux — seems to be a part of the human condition. We would cite the massive numbers of people — probably a third of the American adult population — who experience this condition at least once a month, but we don’t have to because you, or at least many of the employees in your organization, are likely among them.
Rather than suffer through an episode or repeat episodes, many of us reach for a remedy. That remedy ranges from an occasional chewable Tums or Rolaids to daily dosages of Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) drugs, like Nexium, Prevacid or Prilosec. Most of these options reliably relieve most people’s symptoms without immediate side effects, so few people question either the need or the remedy.
And yet it turns out both the need and the remedy should be questioned. Simple lifestyle changes can reduce the need, and nobody should be taking any drug designed as a remedy every day. Most drugs intended to be taken intermittently or for short periods of time are not labeled, tested or, as we shall see in the next installment, safe for long-term use. (Our most recent Six Things post exposed another example: harmless-sounding OTC sleep aids.)
1. Some of the causes of heartburn can easily be addressed
Overeating, eating without an accompanying beverage, eating too fast, eating too late at night – all these things can cause indigestion. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/8-ways-to-quell-the-fire-of-heartburn Other less obvious physical causes include:
Eating while slouching,
Not loosening your belt while filling your stomach
Too much alcohol, caffeine, or even peppermint, carbonated beverages or chocolate
Fatty or greasy foods.
Exercising right after eating
Simply addressing these items – particularly in combination and particularly before bed -- could go a long way towards relieving symptoms.
2. Three simple remedies are overlooked
First, try chewing sugarless gum after eating. This stimulates saliva production. You’ll often feel a satisfying burp as a result. (Or at least here at Quizzify we do. Yes, we know. TMI.) https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/8-ways-to-quell-the-fire-of-heartburn
Next, probiotics found naturally in some yogurts (or kombucha) can solve many people’s indigestion if eaten regularly for two weeks or so.
There are hundreds of yogurts on the market, so how can you tell if a yogurt has probiotics? Rule of thumb: if you recognize the brand from your childhood, it doesn’t. There are also many types of probiotics. None fit everyone’s needs exactly, so varying your yogurt choices might be a good idea.
Caution: like every other nutritional supplement, probiotics should not become an obsession. Get them from natural sources rather than pills or other concentrated sources.
Finally, if you have nighttime indigestion, try elevating the head of your bed to create a slight downward plane. Not just adding pillows (see comment above about not scrunching your stomach), but rather inclining your entire bed -- using books, or wedges available online or in any medical supply store. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease While you’re sleeping, this small angle helps keep digestive juices out of your esophagus -- which is specifically the body part that “acid reflux” irritates, as the next section describes.
3. Stomach acid is your friend
Stomach acid is a finely tuned biological tool for turning food into absorbable nutrition. If you try to reduce the natural acidity too much, you could be setting yourself up for a range of complications. This includes complications that you or your doctor may not realize are connected to your stomach acid issues, to be discussed in the next posting.
The key is not to squelch stomach acid, but to keep it in your stomach digesting your food, rather than in your throat/esophagus where it can burn and cause pain.
Sometimes heartburn and ulcers are caused by other drugs you might be taking, such as over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. A wide range of drugs cause heartburn, as it turns out.
Tips to relieve heartburn caused by drugs include:
Stopping or reducing those drugs which could be causing your heartburn. (If those are prescribed drugs, obviously check with your doctor first.)
Drinking more water when you take these medicines.
Many medicines are supposed to be taken with food. For prescribed drugs, this is labeled clearly. For over-the-counter drugs, you might have to read the label carefully.If there is no indication one way or the other, taking pills with food (or lots of water) is likely your best bet.
Trying over the counter drugs such as Tums, Maalox, or Pepcid, which can relieve the pain associated with heartburn. All have been on the market for decades with no harms associated with regular (not obsessive!) use.
There is also a chance your heartburn is caused by a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori (H-pylori). You can be tested for this, and your doctor could then prescribe combinations of antibiotics and other heartburn drugs to eliminate H-pylori. However, a huge percentage of us live quite peacefully with H. pylori in our stomachs (and some argue that it is beneficial), so it may not be the cause of your problems.
Further, the remedy – powerful antibiotics – might cause more problems than it solves. So we are agnostic on whether your employees should pursue this strategy. Your employees should just be aware that it’s a possibility.
Here is Part Two, covering medicines and more.
Meanwhile, catch up on the rest of the “6 Things Employees Don’t Know” series you may have missed: sleep hygiene, medicinal sleep aids, sugar, EAPs, and fats.
You’ll be amazed at how a little employee education can go a long way towards healthier habits and more awareness of useful benefits.
And, no, your wellness vendor isn’t providing this education now. Quizzify is the only place you can get it.