Last night a group of us who are going to Machu Pichu this summer had dinner at a Peruvian restaurant. We wanted to try the food out to see what is in store for us. We didn’t like Peruvian food, we loved it! We loved it so much that each of us overate. Croquetas. Ajiaco. Tamales. The food reminded me of my native Cuban cuisine: garlicky, spicy and very savory. We paid the bill and went home, only to pay again later that night. You see, many of us, including myself had heartburn for the rest of the night.
Heartburn, more technically known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (G.E.R.D.), occurs when the caustic fluids within the stomach come up into the esophagus where they do not belong. These fluids, whether they are acid or bile, can burn the esophogus (esophagitis) and cause an uncomfortable burning feeling under the breast bone.
There are many reasons people get heartburn. One of them is being born with something called a “hiatal hernia”. Simply put, a hiatal hernia is the stomach being above the diaphragm. This is not good because along with the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) the diaphragm helps create a belt line that prevents the stomach juices from rolling up into the esophagus. Without this extra barrier stomach contents can easily be pushed into the esophagus burning its very delicate lining. Interestingly, approximately one out of three people have a hiatal hernia.
Besides a hiatal hernia, another cause of heartburn is overeating. When one overeats, the stomach is stretched to the point where the LES is also stretched. Think of the LES as the gate between the esophagus and the stomach. Once stretched, this gate is open and the stomach contents can rise up and burn the esophagus. Heartburn is caused not just by what you eat, but also by how much you eat.
In the case of those of us who ate at the Peruvian restaurant, our greatest sin was eating too much. It wasn’t that the food was too spicy. We just filled our stomachs with too much of it.
But are there certain foods that make heartburn more likely? Find out in my next blog, Heartburn Part II: G.E.R.D and LIFESTYLE