The basic cause of heartburn is an underactive lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, that doesn't tighten as it should. Two excesses often contribute to this problem: too much food in the stomach (overeating) or too much pressure on the stomach (frequently from obesity or pregnancy). Certain foods commonly relax the LES, including tomatoes, citrus fruits, garlic, onions, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, caffeinated products, and peppermint. Dishes high in fats and oils (animal or vegetable) often lead to heartburn, as do certain medications. Stress increases acid production and can cause heartburn. And smoking, which relaxes the LES and stimulates stomach acid, is a major contributor.
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