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Mint Makes Heartburn Worse

Posting Date: 01/26/2004

Q. Several years ago I was experiencing serious heartburn. I had always enjoyed chewing mint gum, and as the symptoms got worse I chewed more and more. I thought that chewing gum was helping the problem.

When I went in to see the doctor, I was shocked to learn the mint was making things worse. I went "cold turkey" on mint and my symptoms disappeared completely in less than two months. I hope you can let people know that mint can contribute to this common problem.

A. Heartburn is caused by acid from the stomach splashing up into the esophagus. Normally, a ring of muscle (the lower esophageal sphincter) keeps acid where it belongs. When the muscle relaxes, it can lead to acid reflux.

Mint, chocolate, alcohol, tobacco, fatty food and prescription drugs such as Valium (diazepam), progesterone and nitroglycerin can all relax the sphincter. Avoiding such triggers can help control heartburn.

Although mint is problematic, chewing gum actually can help heartburn symptoms. It stimulates saliva, which can help wash acid back down into the stomach.

Q. I just read in your column about lowering cholesterol with Metamucil. To lower my cholesterol, should I take it three times daily as listed on the package or is it just one dose daily?

My cholesterol is high, over 220. I cannot take Lipitor or any other statin drugs because they make the muscles in my legs and arms too weak and sore. I also take glucosamine with chondroitin for arthritis.

A. Metamucil and many similar products contain psyllium seed. This soluble fiber can lower cholesterol, although the results are less dramatic than those achieved with statin drugs. The dose is the same as the dose recommended for regularity.

Statin drugs such as Zocor or Lipitor are extremely popular, but they are not the only way to get cholesterol under control. The B vitamin niacin in high doses is also effective. And fish oil can help protect the arteries from atherosclerosis.