Lifestyle changes for heartburn relief

On Your Side: A new study identifies what really helps

If your eating habits have changed during the pandemic or you’re dealing with new sources of stress, you may find you’re getting painful heartburn and acid reflux more often. But don’t just reach for medication.

Proton-pump inhibitors like Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium can be expensive. And when these drugs are used over the long term, they’ve been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, kidney disease, and dementia.

But the good news is that a recent study found that some simple lifestyle changes can be effective at targeting symptoms to keep chronic heartburn and acid reflux at bay.

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important factors in reducing painful symptoms. Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily can help. So can following a healthy diet that includes a higher intake of whole grains and a lower intake of red meat and added sugars.

And if you smoke, here’s another reason to quit. The chemicals in cigarettes can interfere with normal digestion in ways that can trigger heartburn.

Consider your beverage choices. A study found that people who drank no more than two cups of coffee, tea, or soda a day experienced fewer symptoms.

For occasional, unexpected mild heartburn, you can try an antacid to neutralize it. But if you expect to get heartburn after a spicy meal, a low-dose histamine blocker like Tagamet or Pepcid AC can decrease stomach-acid production.

If you experience heartburn more than twice a week or it recurs for weeks or months, consider seeing your doctor.

But tweaking your lifestyle may keep you out of the drugstore in the first place.

Consumer Reports health experts also say that if you’re bothered by symptoms at night or when you lie down, it will help if you avoid eating within 3 hours of bedtime.