Q: I suffer from occasional heartburn. How can I avoid it and still enjoy wine with dinner?—Wendy, Pittsburgh
A: Heartburn is caused by stomach acid flowing up into the esophagus, which isn't protectively lined to handle the high-acid environment of the stomach. Among the most common causes are overconsumption of food and drink, especially foods that are spicy or high in acidity and beverages that contain acidity, carbonation or alcohol.
Alcohol consumption is linked to heartburn because alcohol can relax the valve that is supposed to prevent stomach acid from entering the esophagus. Lying down can also introduce acid to the esophagus, so drinking before lying down for bed can exasperate the problem.
In addition to alcohol, all wine contains acid, but Dr. Blase Polite, an oncologist and expert in gastrointestinal malignancies at the University of Chicago, says the choice of wine isn't a heartburn culprit as much as our behavior following consumption. He recommends not lying down for several hours after eating or ingesting wine. "Give it enough time for the heavy acid in the stomach and all the content to start moving out of the way and into the rest of the gut, where it gets neutralized," he told Wine Spectator.
Dr. Polite also recommends taking over-the-counter antacids, which may help neutralize the acid rather quickly and are safe to consume with wine. Prolonged or frequent heartburn can lead to or be a sign of serious health issues, however, so consult your physician on how to incorporate wine as part of a healthy diet.