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Milk & Heartburn

By Sarah Harding

Heartburn is a common digestive discomfort that affects individuals occasionally. When heartburn occurs more frequently the individual may have a more serious and chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Milk is sometimes recommended as a treatment for heartburn, but it can make symptoms worse in certain situations. Heartburn is both preventable and treatable. Individuals should consult a healthcare professional to discuss persistent heartburn treatment.

Function

Heartburn is the name given to the return of stomach acids and contents up the esophagus, a tube in the chest area that connects the mouth to the stomach. When the acids flow up this tube it causes a burning sensation. Typically a flap at the base of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter, will remain closed to prevent heartburn from occurring. Various factors can increase the likelihood of the flap opening.

Causes

Some foods are more likely to trigger heartburn than others. These can vary from one person to another. Common heartburn triggers include spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages, citrus, tomato products, peppermint, greasy foods, fried foods and high-fat foods. Eating these and similar items can result in heartburn. Lying down after a meal, bending over, wearing tight fitting clothing and over-eating can put unnecessary pressure on the abdomen and the lower esophageal flap, making heartburn more frequent. Finally, the lower esophageal sphincter can be weak and open easily. This can occur temporarily due to pregnancy or it can be an indication of persistent acid exposure that has deteriorated the flap. A damaged sphincter is more likely attributed to GERD or to pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association points out that hormones in a pregnant woman's body encourage the flap to relax and the digestive process to slow. These factors make it easier for foods to return up the esophagus.

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Treatment

Over-the-counter antacids offer heartburn sufferers fast and effective relief of the chest discomfort. These medicines come in chewable tablet, effervescent tablet and liquid form. They work by neutralizing stomach acid to eliminate the burning sensation. Milk is often recommended as a home remedy for heartburn. Cold milk or warmed milk with a tablespoon of honey are among the common home remedies. This method may work for some individuals by neutralizing the stomach acid in the same manner as an antacid.

Considerations

Milk may actually exacerbate heartburn symptoms, states "The Doctors Book of Home Remedies." Milk contains some amount of fat, especially whole milk or only slightly reduced-fat milk. Fat can cause the stomach to produce excess acid, resulting in heartburn. Individuals with lactose intolerance or dairy sensitivities may experience even more severe heartburn after drinking milk.

Prevention

Avoiding known food triggers, including milk, spicy foods or any other heartburn trigger, can reduce discomfort. Individuals can also wear clothing that is not tight to the abdomen. Maintaining a healthy weight instead of being overweight can reduce the frequency of heartburn. Other preventative measures include eating the last meal of the day at least two hours before bed, staying upright after a meal, eating slowly, eating small frequent meals instead of overeating and avoiding bending over after eating.

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