The sensation that your chest is on fire is very uncomfortable, which is called heartburn or acid reflux. That sensation can be frustrating because you don’t know what to eat or drink to make it go away, and also because you don’t know what caused it. According to Mayo Clinic, heartburn is a burning pain in your chest, just behind your breastbone. The pain is often worse after eating, in the evening, or when lying down or bending over. Dr Kevin Muragijimana, a medical doctor and founder of Doctor AI, a medical artificial intelligence mobile app, says that heartburn is a feeling or pain caused by acids that escape from the stomach to the oesophagus. “Normally, there is a sphincter at the junction of the oesophagus and the stomach that prevents stomach contents like food and acids to enter the oesophagus. And when they enter the stomach mistakenly they cause heartburn,” he says. The problem is any food known to contain too many acids will increase the levels of acidity in the stomach as well, says Dr Muragijimana. “Some causes of heartburn are having too many acids in the stomach. Usually, the stomach secretes a moderate amount of acids in the stomach, when it happens that the stomach secretes a lot of acids due to different reasons like bactericides, it increases the possibility of acid escaping a usually normal functioning sphincter,” he says. Dr Muragijimana says that when the oesophageal sphincter relaxes and doesn’t close fully there is a possibility of acid escaping. Moreover, according to Mayo Clinic, typically, when food is swallowed, a band of muscle around the bottom of the oesophagus (lower oesophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into the stomach. Then the muscle tightens again. If the lower oesophageal sphincter isn’t working as it should, stomach acid can flow back up into the oesophagus (acid reflux) and cause heartburn. The acid backup may be worse when you’re bent over or lying down. Treatment Ariane Umukunzi, a nutritionist, says that there are many risk factors that cause heartburn, including food and other physical issues. “Most foods that contain acids are likely to cause heartburn, another cause might be if you are pregnant or overweight. Foods like lemon, oranges, pepper, mazes, spicy foods, onions, tomato products, such as ketchup, fatty or fried foods, chocolate, alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee or other caffeinated beverages, and large or fatty meals normally cause heartburn,” she says. Umukunzi says that although it can be hard to avoid all these foods, there can be a moderation of the amount we take. “Avoiding such foods can be hard for some of us, but eating less of them can minimise the chances of having painful heartburn. One mindful thing to do when eating these kinds of food is to at least avoid eating them at night when you are about to go to bed because when you do, they stay sitting in your stomach and risk coming up the oesophagus when you are trying to sleep which can be painful,” she says. Umukunzi also says that eating lesser meals, or none at all, and avoiding late-night snacks can help you evade heartburn. In an article by Dr Ekta Gupta, a specialist in general gastrointestinal, alkaline foods like bananas, melons, cauliflower, fennel, and nuts with higher pH can help offset strong stomach acid. Ginger is also one of the best digestive aids because of its medicinal properties. It’s alkaline in nature and anti-inflammatory, which eases irritation in the digestive tract. “Milk is often thought to relieve heartburn,” says Dr Gupta, “But you have to keep in mind that milk comes in different varieties — whole milk with the full amount of fat, 2% fat, and skim or non-fat milk. The fat in milk can aggravate acid reflux. But non-fat milk can act as a temporary buffer between the stomach lining and acidic stomach contents and provide immediate relief of heartburn symptoms.” Umukunzi adds that eating foods that contain a lot of water can dilute and weaken stomach acid, foods such as celery, cucumber, lettuce, and watermelon.