shows that at least 2.5 million South Africans experience heartburn every day.
Over Easter, they may reach for their chests in discomfort more often than
usual and the culprit, says a local pharmaceutical company, is chocolate.
people are aware that chocolate is one of the top causes of heartburn and that
over-indulgence in Easter eggs can lead to painful bouts of heartburn,” says
Mariska Fouche, public affairs manager at Pharma Dynamics, a leading supplier
of over-the-counter (OTC) heartburn medication.
explains that, despite its name, heartburn has got nothing to do with your
digestive rather than a cardiac ailment. When the lower oesophageal sphincter
(LOS), a tight muscle at the bottom of your oesophagus that acts like a valve,
gets irritated or relaxed, heartburn results. The muscle prevents food from
your stomach travelling back up your oesophagus by contracting. But sometimes
it relaxes too soon and food, mixed with strong stomach acids, does squirt back
up, causing the burning sensation. That is why another name for heartburn is
Some of the
key chemicals in chocolate can trigger muscle relaxation and thus heartburn.
Theobromine and serotonin
contains concentrations of theobromine, a compound that occurs naturally in
cocoa, which slackens the LOS. It also contains serotonin – the 'feel-good'
chemical that some say accounts for why we enjoy chocolate so much – which has
also been shown to affect the function of the LOS. In addition, chocolate is
high in fat, another cause of heartburn.
delicious Easter eggs are full of heartburn-inducing chemicals!"
who can't resist nibbling on a chocolate rabbit or egg this Easter should
choose options that contain the least amount of theobromine.
chocolate with a very high cocoa content has the highest levels," says Fouche. "Milk chocolate has less and white chocolate only has trace amounts. Your best
choice is a small amount of white chocolate because although it is low in
theobromine, it is high in fat and sugar."
If you have
an attack of heartburn, there are a few immediate measures you can take to help
quell the pain.
stand up, don't lie down. Gravity will help keep the acid in your stomach. Then
drink a glass of water to wash the acid and food back down your oesophagus. If
you can, stimulate and swallow extra saliva by chewing gum, or drink an
alkaline vegetable juice or eat veggies like cucumbers, radishes, carrots or
beetroot. Avoid bending at the waist and avoid wearing clothing that's tight around the waist.”
Proton pump inhibitors
also reach for popular OTC medicines like antacids and proton pump inhibitors
typically neutralise the pH levels in the stomach, offering fast relief. But
you run the risk of suffering from heartburn again once the stomach acids
return to their previous levels. Antacids are not a long-term solution.
also known as acid secretion reducers - inhibit the proton pumps responsible
for transporting gastric acid to the stomach. Less acid is released and the
patient gets up to 24 hours’ relief.
sufferers may have to make other adjustments. Try to eat supper at least two to
three hours before going to bed so that acid levels have subsided by the time
you lie down. Stick to smaller but more frequent meals to minimize the
production of stomach acid.
measures aren’t enough, try sleeping on your left side so that your stomach
acids pool away from your LOS and raise the head of your bed by about 10 to
15cm – or sleep slightly propped up - so that gravity helps keep acids in the
Keep a heartburn diary
out that your physical condition also affects your chances of suffering from
overweight, excess body fat can push on the stomach, increasing gastric
pressure and forcing food and acid up the oesophagus. Obese patients can also
suffer from lower LOS pressure and impaired emptying of the stomach, meaning
food and acid are always present.
pregnant women suffer from heartburn because increased levels of hormones can
soften the ligaments that usually keep the LOS tightly shut. Smokers generally
suffer more heartburn because smoking stimulates stomach acid, weakens the
oesophageal muscle and slows the production of saliva, which works to prevent
harm to the oesophagus. Drinkers of alcohol also show heightened levels of heartburn
because alcohol increases production of stomach acid and relaxes the LOS. If
you combine these factors with chocolate consumption, you may suffer from
recurring and severe heartburn.”
research shows that up to 94% of heartburn sufferers can link their symptoms to
specific foods if they keep a 'heartburn diary' for a few weeks. If you know
chocolate is a trigger, rather avoid it this Easter, especially if you are also
overweight, pregnant, smoke or drink alcohol.
is also more common at night, which means it may not be immediately obvious
that the chocolate you ate during the day is the cause. Keeping a diary that
tracks your diet and instances of heartburn should quickly reveal your food
to consumer research by confectioners, Africa produces 75% of the world’s cocoa
and the per capita consumption of chocolate in South Africa is 1.3kg annually.
diets and lifestyles become more Westernised and sedentary, and we eat more
chocolate, we can expect to see an increase in the prevalence of
heartburn. As always, prevention is always better than treatment. Keep
fit, avoid trigger foods, don’t smoke and drink moderately or not at all to
keep heartburn at bay.”
- (Pharma Dynamics press release)