Why exercise and diet might be better heartburn treatment than medication

If you suffer from heartburn, you’re not alone. It’s a weekly occurrence for 20 percent of Americans. But as medications to treat heartburn are now being linked to a growing number of complications, more people are exploring alternative ways to relieve symptoms through lifestyle changes.

A class of drugs called Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) are commonly prescribed for people who suffer from acid reflux, or heartburn. These medications have recently been linked to problems like joint pain, dementia, heart attacks and an increased risk of kidney damage.

Keep in mind that every medication has side effects, and if the benefits of the drugs outweigh the risks for someone, they should keep taking them under medical supervision.

The drugs help relieve heartburn by reducing the amount of acid the stomach produces. But that acid serves other important functions in the body and helps the absorption of vitamins and minerals.

Keep in mind that every medication has side effects, and if the benefits of the drugs outweigh the risks for you, you should keep taking them under medical supervision. You should not stop taking any medication without talking to your doctor first.

Alternatives to heartburn medicine

If you’re not currently on medication, I would recommend first trying alternative methods to relieve symptoms, including:

Lose weight

If your body mass index is in the overweight range, you’re almost twice as likely to have acid reflux. Losing weight is one of the best ways to find relief without medication. If you’re having trouble losing weight, a registered dietitian can help.

Quit smoking and limit alcohol

Both can make symptoms worse.

“Explore."

Eat smaller meals

Overeating can cause indigestion, so it’s better to eat reduced portions throughout the day.

Keep a food diary

This can help you determine which foods and drinks might be triggers. Everyone is different.

Don’t exercise too soon after meals

Pushing yourself too hard, too fast can also cause heartburn. But don’t stop exercising — physical activity can help keep weight under control and prevent acid reflux from happening in the first place.

Elevate the head of the bed

Prop it up six to eight inches to prevent reflux when sleeping.

Heartburn can be a symptom of a more serious condition, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which should be treated. Stomach acid can damage the soft tissues of the esophagus and even lead to esophageal cancer.

If you’re worried you might have gastroesophageal reflux disease, talk with a gastroenterologist about options for GERD treatment.

About the author

Bradley Jones, MD
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Brad Jones, MD, is an internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

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Why exercise and diet might be better heartburn treatment than medication