What can be done to prevent our supper from making its presence felt in the night?

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While a good evening meal can send us to bed in a satisfied and contented state, it can also be that our last supper may make it’s presence felt later in the form of acid indigestion and heartburn. A recent study in the American medical journal Chest has revealed that one factor that appears to increase the risk of the acid reflux at night is the imbibing of carbonated drinks in the evening. It has been suggested that the acidic nature of these drinks adds to the stomach’s own acidity, thereby increasing the risk of heartburn. It seems that the drinking of fizzy drinks can cause a night in the sack to be too hot to handle.

While the avoidance of fizzy drinks may reduce the risk of reflux, my experience is that there are many other nutritionally-oriented approaches that can help to neutralise this problem. A top tactic here is to ensure that food in the stomach is well digested prior to retiring: food not efficiently digested can overstay its welcome in the stomach, increasing the risk that it will leak through the valve between the stomach and the gullet (the gastro-oesophageal sphincter or ‘GOS’). In the upright position gravity will at least help to keep the stomach contents in place. However, lying down ups the risk of the stomach content escaping into the oesophagus.

One mainstay approach for overcoming reflux at night is to avoid overwhelming the stomach with food in the evening. A modest-sized supper is a good ploy, and something that is more easily achieved if, after a half-decent lunch, a snack of say some fruit and/or nuts is had in the late afternoon. An earlier dinner may help too, as this gives the stomach more time to do a good job of digestion before bedtime.

Although recent evidence suggests fizzy drinks should be given a miss in the evening, my advice is to keep intake of all fluids to minimum around the time of the evening meal. Drinking dilutes stomach acid and therefore tends to impair digestion. Additional fluid also adds volume to the stomach contents, which tends to increase reflux risk. Alcoholic beverages seem to be a particular problem in this respect as they are believed to promote laxity in the GOS. For those prone to reflux at night, it seems a night-cap of whiskey and soda is something well worth avoiding.

One often-effective strategy for refluxers is to avoid mixing protein-based foods (such as meat, fish and eggs) with starch-based foods (bread, potatoes, rice and pasta) at the evening meal. This means basing meals on either protein or starch, along with cooked vegetables (other than the potato) or salad. Some believe that this way of eating makes the process of digestion easier for the body, and my experience is that it is often very effective in the treatment of heartburn. Further digestive aid can be had from thorough chewing which, amongst other things, breaks food up and allows the digestive juices greater opportunity to do their job. A range of natural approaches can do much to help those prone to feeling the burn at night.

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