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Make these dietary and lifestyle adjustments to ward off heartburn

Health & Science
 Persistent acid reflux can erode the lining of the oesophagus and increase the risk of developing oesophagal adenocarcinoma. [iStockphoto]

If you have to avoid bending over too soon after meals to prevent the miserable sensation of acid reflux, you’re not alone.

Although substantive figures haven’t been established in Kenya, Aga Khan University Hospital’s online records indicate that over 20 per cent of adults decry the unpleasant disease whose most significant symptom is “heartburn”.

And according to experts, too much use of antacids can have potentially dangerous consequences. 

Only last week, a new study published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggested that people who take common antacids known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for four and a half years or more are at a higher risk of dementia than those who do not take the drug. 

Taken long-term, the PPIs have also been associated with a higher risk of developing kidney disease, stomach cancer, osteoporosis, C. difficile infection, and pneumonia.

“Acid reflux is among adults’ most frequent health complaints,” says gastroenterologist Dr Onyango Ayo of Kenyatta National Hospital.

“Many people experience the uncomfortable symptoms of acid reflux, in which amounts of stomach contents reverses and leeches into the oesophagus and even mouth.” 

Common symptoms, Ayo says, include a burning feeling in the chest, belching and bloating, a feeling of a lump in the throat, and regurgitation into the mouth of acidic partially digested food from the stomach.

Acidity can also affect the respiratory tract, resulting in hoarseness, cough, wheezing, post-nasal drip, or asthma.

Persistent acid reflux is not just annoying; if it persists too long, he explains, it can erode the lining of the oesophagus and increase the risk of developing deadly cancer called oesophagal adenocarcinoma.

We explore lifestyle changes to combat acid reflux naturally.

A Harvard research team recently reported that most people could avoid the symptoms by adhering to an anti-reflux lifestyle after analysing health surveys over 12 years from over 40,000 nurses and identified key lifestyle factors that helped keep acid reflux at bay. The more of these lifestyle patterns the nurses stuck to, the lower their risk of developing gastroesophageal reflux disease. Following all five habits reduced the overall risk of developing GERD symptoms by up to 40 per cent.

Maintain a healthy body weight

About 22 per cent of people classified as overweight suffered acid reflux, compared with about 14 per cent of those who were not.

“After eating, a muscular sphincter at the bottom of the oesophagus opens to allow food enter the stomach. It then shuts to stop it from reversing direction. An oversized belly puts excess pressure on this sphincter, preventing it from closing as it should. This allows contents from the acidic stomach to leach into the oesophagus,” explains Ayo.

Don’t smoke 

The researchers found that tobacco can extend the time for acidic foods to leave the oesophagus. The analysis found that GERD affected about 20 per cent of smokers, compared with about 16 per cent of nonsmokers.


The Harvard team reported that those who did moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 30 minutes everyday were less likely to develop symptoms of GERD.

Cut down on alcoholic drinks, coffee, tea, and soda. The risk of GERD was lessened among those who took no alcohol and no more than two cups of tea, coffee or soda each day.

Follow a heart-healthy diet

Those who ate fruits and vegetables, legumes, fish, poultry, whole grains, and little to no red meat were less likely to develop acid reflux. “Avoid fast foods by all means,” says Ayo.


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