Have you ever experienced an uncomfortable or burning pain in your chest? This discomfort is known as heartburn. It can be very overwhelming for anyone. Sometimes, consuming certain types of food and drinks can trigger this sensation. According to prior peer-reviewed research, more than 40% of adults living in the United States experience occasional heartburn. Cases of heartburn have risen by a staggering 50% within a decade. However, Ayurvedic texts have something to say about heartburn too.
Heartburn is not a new phenomenon since much is mentioned about it in ancient Ayurvedic texts. According to Ayurvedic wisdom, heartburn is a sign of imbalanced Pitta and impaired agni (digestive fire) and is also known as amlapitta. Since Pitta is associated with heat and the fire element of the body, excess Pitta is linked to heartburn. According to Ayurveda, amlapitta is a Pitta-dominant disease, and excess formation of vitiated Pitta is the main pathological mechanism behind the manifestation of this disease.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, eating too many sour (acidic) or pungent (spicy) foods, lack of sleep/rest, stress, or emotional disturbance can also trigger heartburn. Ayurveda suggests simple strategies to help reduce excess Pitta and the heat building up in the stomach.
READ MORE: Pitta Diet: Everything You Need To Know
Heartburn is a common condition that many of us may face once in a while. It is a burning sensation felt in our chest, behind the breastbone. The uncomfortable sensation may last for hours or longer, depending on the cause. It happens when the acids in our stomach travel back up our esophagus (the tube that carries food to our stomach). These acids play a crucial role in helping us digest the food we eat. Sometimes, heartburn is also associated with a bitter taste in our throat and mouth.
While ordinarily, heartburn feels like an uncomfortable or burning pain in the middle of your chest. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, heartburn symptoms can range from mild to extreme cases of discomfort. Some people may also experience the following:
Dysfunctioning of lower esophageal sphincter: Lower esophageal sphincter is the point where our esophagus connects to our stomach. Ordinarily, the lower esophageal sphincter would close when food leaves the esophagus and enters the stomach. But when it doesn’t function properly or becomes weakened, contents from the stomach leak back into the esophagus. These acids can irritate the esophagus and cause heartburn and other symptoms.
Improper diet and medications may trigger heartburn: A diet consisting of carbonated drinks and fried, rich, sour, and spicy food may also trigger heartburn. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, heartburn can also be triggered by consuming sedatives, and blood pressure medications. People who smoke, are overweight and are pregnant may also experience heartburn.
When and how you eat matters: It is important that we stay relaxed, calm, and seated when we eat. Modern-day research also tells us that eating in a relaxed state stimulates the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system, required to digest food properly. Similarly, poor posture when eating can also cause chronic pain and an increased risk of indigestion as it puts pressure on the diaphragm, stomach, and liver. Therefore, it is best to sit up straight when eating and digesting your food.
Similarly, timing our food intake is also essential. After the sun goes down, the body prepares for sleep, and the biological clock that supports digestion gets turned off. A study highlighted that eating less than 3 hours before going to sleep was associated with an increased risk of heartburn. The same is suggested by Ayurvedic wisdom. Ayurveda recommends fixing our dinacharya (daily routine) to maintain healthy energy levels, blood pressure, weight, and more. Another way to fight occasional heartburn is to drink a large glass of water 30 minutes before meals.
Eat what is right: Ayurveda and modern-day research suggest that what we eat has a direct impact on experiencing heartburn. Therefore we must be mindful of what we eat. Ayurveda recommends lowering Pitta aggravating foods when experiencing heartburn. These include spices, tomatoes, lemons, peppers, alcohol, and heavy, greasy, or fried food. Similarly, it is recommended to indulge in non-processed, whole, and organic food whenever possible, as these foods are easier to digest.
READ MORE: 10 Principles For A Wholesome Diet
Breathing exercises: According to Ayurveda, slowed movement in the digestive tract triggers upward-moving digestive energy, known as udvarta.This upward movement induces upward pressure on the diaphragm, compromising its ability to contract fully and triggering potential heartburn. However, Ayurveda suggests that performing regular breathing exercises, called pratiloma (yogic breathing technique of partially closing the nostrils while inhaling in order to create resistance), can help a compromised diaphragm. Multiple studies have highlighted that breathing exercises can help in inspiratory muscle training and help heal and restore compromised diaphragmatic function.
Check acid levels: Heartburns are associated with acid and food material that lingers in the stomach and food pipe. This leads to irritation in the stomach lining and other problems. Therefore, as a natural response, there is a reduction in the production of acids in our stomach to digest food. Due to this, under-digested food begins to irritate the stomach lining, triggering heartburn. Therefore, maintaining optimum acid levels is critical to address heartburn.
Bile production: To counter the effect of acid, our body produces bile, which is stored in the gallbladder. So, if our body does not produce sufficient bile or is experiencing bile sludge (a condition where bile ducts get filled with viscous and thick bile fluid), the digestion process gets delayed. Simultaneously, the dietary fats emulsify, and acid irritates the lining, triggering a potential udvarta and occasional heartburn. Therefore, it is important to regulate healthy bile production and consume foods and herbs that can help decongest bile sludge (cholagogues). These include beets, apples, ginger, fenugreek, cinnamon, turmeric, shilajit, etc.
Microbiome: Due to poor digestion, undigested proteins and fats can pass into our intestines and irritate the intestinal lining. This can lead to poor gut health and the accumulation of unhealthy and undesirable microbes in our digestive tract. Similarly, Ayurveda also stresses restoring and maintaining a healthy microbiome. Ayurveda, therefore, suggests taking soluble fibers like licorice to soothe the lining and support a healthy microbial environment.
READ MORE: How To Cure Acidity With Ayurveda?
Heartburn is a common condition that many people may face once in a while. It is a sign of disruption of our digestion process and agni. Therefore, by taking cues from Ayurveda and modern-day research, we must be mindful about what we eat, maintain a healthy routine, keep a check on our acid levels, and indulge in breathing exercises, walking, and keeping ourselves hydrated.
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