You answered a letter from a person whose doctor prescribed Prevacid for heartburn. The patient said that she took the drug every day, even though she got heartburn only when she drank coffee. I think the physician overprescribed. Drinking arabica coffee would be better than taking Prevacid as the coffee is lower in acid. Personally, I find that hard ginger candy is very helpful in trying to deal with heartburn. You should tell people about handling heartburn without prescription drugs.
A surprising number of foods, beverages, and medicines can aggravate heartburn. Prevention is always preferable to prescription medicines. Some people may find arabica coffee easier to tolerate, but others get heartburn from any kind of coffee, even decaf. Alcohol, fried foods, peppermint, chocolate, Valium (diazepam), and progesterone are just a few common triggers.
I’ve been suffering from a constant swollen, sore throat due to acid reflux. I’ve been on several different acid-suppressing drugs that worked temporarily and then stopped working. Today I tried ginger candy to soothe my throat, and it’s working. Have you heard of ginger helping with reflux symptoms?
Ginger has a long-standing reputation for soothing stomach disorders. Chinese sailors have used it for motion sickness for at least 1,000 years, and many readers have found it helpful for upset stomach. Several years ago we heard from a reader who discovered that a cinnamon-ginger drink helped her heartburn: “My reflux became really bad when I stopped hormone replacement therapy. Acid-suppressing drugs worked great, but after two months I couldn’t stop them without the heartburn recurring. One night, I took colleagues to dinner at a Korean restaurant. Someone ordered persimmon punch, a concentrated cinnamon-ginger drink, for dessert. A few sips later, I felt fantastic. After a month of adding three tablespoons of the cinnamon-ginger drink to my tea morning and night, my heartburn was under control.”
2 quarts water
½ cup thinly sliced fresh ginger
3 cinnamon sticks
½ cup honey
1 ripe persimmon, washed and sliced thinly
Combine ginger and cinnamon in water and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and stir in honey and persimmon. If fresh persimmon is unavailable, one-half cup sliced dried persimmon may be substituted. Chill in the refrigerator overnight and serve cold. The punch can be stored for up to a week.
Contributed by David Mathis and Debbie Mathis
Peeled fresh ginger root
Fresh lime juice
Slice thin cross sections of ginger. Squeeze a little fresh lime juice over the slices, and lightly sprinkle them with salt. To kick-start good digestion, eat about two slices per person, per meal, about 15 minutes before the meal.
My brother-in-law is addicted to hot peppers. He loves salsa and puts Tabasco on everything. I can’t figure out how he avoids heartburn. Spicy foods give me indigestion, but he maintains hot peppers are good for the stomach. How could that be?
Your brother-in-law actually has some science on his side. Italian researchers reported that red pepper powder in capsules reduced stomachache, fullness, and nausea by 60 percent.4 In comparison, a look-alike placebo reduced these symptoms by half as much. Scientists think the “magic” ingredient in hot peppers is capsaicin, which is used in arthritis remedies and other creams to relieve pain. Studies on rats have shown that capsaicin reduces stomach damage caused by aspirin or alcohol.
THE PEOPLE’S PHARMACY
Favorite Food #14: Hot Peppers
Some people shun spicy foods. Even a hint of heat has them sweating and gasping. Then there are the pepper heads. The hotter the food, the happier they are. Faced with chicken curry, chili, eggs, gumbo, or spaghetti without a bottle of hot sauce handy, they get anxious. For them, such foods demand an extra kick.
Many believe spicy foods are hard on the digestive tract. For years physicians warned people with heartburn (also called dyspepsia) or ulcers to avoid spicy foods and to stay away from citrus fruit, alcohol, fatty foods, chocolate, coffee, and tea.
Yet in the medical literature the evidence that spicy foods lead to heartburn is thin.1 And we are here to tell you that spice can be nice.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, researchers in Italy gave hot peppers to patients with heartburn. Instead of making them worse, the hot peppers reduced symptoms of indigestion by 60 percent, compared to roughly 30 percent for patients given a placebo. The researchers concluded, “Although larger trials with standardized materials are needed, capsaicin [the active compound in hot peppers] could represent a potential therapy for functional dyspepsia.”2
In one study, physiologists found that capsaicin might even be beneficial for the stomach lining.3 Other studies on rats and cats have shown that capsaicin can actually inhibit stomach acid secretion.4 Another study demonstrated the power of the hot stuff in hot peppers to protect the stomach against aspirin-induced damage.5
Further research has shown that capsaicin protects against stomach damage caused by the arthritis drug indomethacin and by alcohol.6 There is also increasing evidence to suggest that capsaicin may help prevent platelets from sticking together and causing clots.7
Even more exciting is the surprising amount of new research suggesting that hot peppers and capsaicin may have significant anticancer potential—in both preventing and treating the disease.8
For many years I suffered from heartburn and took Alka-Seltzer four or five days a week at bedtime. I had been advised to avoid fatty foods, so I ate a very low-fat diet with lots of rice, pasta, and beans. I ate nothing fried. Then, last year, I made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, and I tried the Atkins diet. I worried that eating greasy food like sausage, eggs, and cheese would aggravate my heartburn, but I decided to try the diet anyway. (I could no longer button my jeans.) I lost 25 pounds in 10 weeks and have kept the weight off for 15 months. I also lost my heartburn, even before the weight came off. I no longer take any antacid. Have others reported this benefit?
We have heard from some people that the Atkins diet helps relieve symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. There is even a preliminary medical report documenting five cases of patients whose acid reflux disappeared when they adopted a carbohydrate-restricted diet.5 Research also suggests that a very-low-carbohydrate diet may help ease some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.6
I once suffered from GERD and took Prilosec daily. Even so, I had severe heartburn, and food often got lodged in my esophagus, even after it was surgically stretched. I had a few other minor health problems and was a bit overweight, so I was ready to make some changes. A friend suggested a low-carb diet. Though I expected little, I opted to try it. After three days, I realized that I had no heartburn, so I discontinued the Prilosec without ill effects. I’d tried to stop the drug before, but the heartburn had gotten worse. A short time later, I found I could swallow without choking. After years of suffering, my life was normal once again. It has now been a year, and I have lost 45 pounds. I’m still fine. My message is simple: If you are having heartburn, GERD, or swallowing difficulties, consult your doctor to find out about a temporary low-carb diet. I strongly believe it will help many people.
Thanks for sharing your story. In one study, people on a carbohydrate-restricted diet had significantly less heartburn.7
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic