Nutritional tips for heartburn during cancer treatment

Heartburn is a painful burning sensation behind the breastbone. This is caused by stomach acid rising into the oesophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to the stomach).

What can I do?

Eat small meals

Large meals stimulate the production of stomach acid. Eating small portions regularly will help to reduce stomach acidity. Try eating little and often, at least six times a day.

Try to avoid becoming constipated

Drink plenty of fluids and ask your doctor or nurse for laxatives if drinking fluids doesn’t help.

Eating enough fibre in your daily diet can help to reduce your chance of becoming constipated. Fibre can help make your stools softer, which makes them easier to pass. Fibre is found in wholegrain products, such as wholemeal, seeded or granary bread, wholegrain cereals, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and pulses. It’s important to make sure you drink enough fluids when increasing how much fibre you eat.

Do not eat before bed

Try to not eat meals within two hours of bedtime. Eating stimulates the production of stomach acid. Sleep with a raised mattress if available – if the bed itself does not have that option, you can raise the mattress where you rest your head by placing a pillow under the mattress.

Take your time to eat and try to eat at a table

Take your time when eating and chew each bite carefully. If you eat quickly or take large bites you can swallow air, and this can cause heartburn. This also applies to chewing gum.

Avoid certain foods

There is some evidence that certain foods can make heartburn worse. These include:
• Alcohol
• Coffee
• Carbonated drinks

You may find avoiding fatty and fried food can also help.

Losing weight can help

If you are overweight the excess fat around the abdomen can press on the organs in the body – this makes stomach acid enter the oesophagus. Losing weight can help reduce heartburn.

Note: ask your doctor about medicines that reduce the symptoms of heartburn.

For advice on eating well during cancer download a free copy of our guide

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