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October 23, 2021  
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  • Lifestyle Solutions for Heartburn

    Reviewed by Dr. Rich Alweis

    There are a variety of lifestyle changes that could drastically improve your heartburn. Many of these changes—like losing weight, or quitting smoking—may seem difficult.

    But even making small changes to your diet and lifestyle can help your symptoms.

    Detailed Description
    The following lifestyle factors can aggravate your heartburn:

  • Being overweight
  • Exercising without taking the proper precautions
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Diet

    Being overweight

    Weight gain, and the poor diet that may be associated with it, can cause heartburn or make it worse. It is not clear why increased weight aggravates heartburn, but it is true for large numbers of people. There is good news, however: even a 10 percent drop in weight can improve your symptoms. For some people, that can be achieved by making simple lifestyle changes: adding moderate exercise to your routine, cutting back on alcohol, drinking water instead of soda, drinking coffee with creamer instead of a latte, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.

    Exercise factors

    If you get heartburn while working out, there are a number of potential solutions:

  • For two hours before your workout, avoid protein and fats.
  • Avoid foods that aggravate your heartburn (see below).
  • Don’t eat a meal, especially a large meal, in the two hours before you exercise. A
    full stomach increases likelihood of heartburn.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • If you drink sports drinks, water them down. The carbohydrates in the drinks may contribute to heartburn.


    Smoking increases heartburn for a number of reasons. It relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, which makes it easier for stomach contents to reflux. It also has harmful affects on saliva, preventing saliva from neutralizing acid in your esophagus. Unfortunately, quitting is the only solution.


    Like smoking, alcohol can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, making it easier for acid to back up into the esophagus. Alcohol also causes the contractions that occur when you swallow to become erratic, which further lessens sphincter control. Alcohol causes more acid to be produced in your stomach, and it can make your esophagus more sensitive to that acid.

    There are, however, ways to minimize alcohol’s affect on your system:

  • Drink white wine instead of red.
  • Drink moderate amounts—1-2 mixed drinks, 12-16 ounces of wine, 2-3 beers.
  • Keep track of which drinks aggravate your heartburn, and avoid them as much as possible.
  • Try using other methods of relaxation—exercise, deep breathing, walking and stretching are options.


    Some foods are more likely to produce acid then others. In general, high fat foods are more likely to cause symptoms. The lists below include those foods most likely and least likely to cause heartburn, but there is of course substantial middle ground. Many foods may have a moderate impact on your heartburn.


  • Fruits: Citrus fruits, cranberries or cranberry juice, tomatoes
  • Vegetables: Potatoes made with a lot of fat (potato salad, mashed potatoes, French fries), raw onion
  • Grains: Macaroni and cheese, spaghetti with tomato sauce
  • Dairy: Sour cream, ice cream and other high-fat dairy products
  • Meat: Ground beef (chuck), chicken nuggets, buffalo wings
  • Snacks: Chocolate, high fat chips, doughnuts, or other high-fat snacks

    What can you eat?

  • Fruits: Apples, bananas
  • Vegetables: Baked potato, broccoli, green beans, carrots, cabbage
  • Grains: Most breads, crackers and cereals. Granola is one cereal that may cause symptoms, but most are okay.
  • Dairy: Most low-fat products, like low-fat milk or yogurt, feta cheese, goat cheese, or soy products. Cheeses like cheddar and mozzarella may cause symptoms but are not high risk.
  • Meat: London broil steak, chicken without the skin, fish without added fat
  • Snacks: Baked chips, jelly beans or licorice, nonfat cookies or other nonfat baked goods

    Last updated: 25-Jun-03

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