If you have ever suffered burning in the chest and throat, belching, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, hiccups, coughing, or discomfort with lying down – especially following a large meal – there is a good chance you’re experiencing a common health issue: acid reflux. While everyone experiences acid reflux on occasion, for some, frequent episodes of acid reflux can signal a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
What causes gastroesophageal reflux disease?
GERD results when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve at the top of the stomach, stops functioning effectively and allows the acidic contents of the stomach to flow up into the esophagus. While the stomach is designed to withstand the acid needed to digest food, the lining of the esophagus is not. As a result, the backflow of stomach contents up into the esophagus can cause the uncomfortable symptoms we’re all too familiar with. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle: the more you reflux, the weaker the LES becomes, and the weaker the LES, the more likely reflux is to occur. So, if you have GERD, your first line of defense should be making changes to your diet and lifestyle that aim to stop reflux from happening in the first place.
What factors will contribute to gastroesophageal reflux disease?
- Consuming large meals
- Consuming foods that trigger your acid reflux symptoms
- High-fat diet
- Excessive belly fat and obesity
Tips for heartburn relief without medication
If you find yourself frequently reaching for an antacid, remember that medications only treat your GERD symptoms, but won’t eliminate the cause. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to control your symptoms naturally and help your body heal. By making some straightforward lifestyle changes that support good health, it’s possible to begin to feel relief without medication. Try incorporating these habits that are intended to stop reflux from occurring so you can find relief from symptoms and halt the progression of your disease:
- If you’re overweight, lose weight: Research has proven that excessive weight and obesity contribute to GERD, so losing weight can help ease the pressure on your LES. Even a small reduction in weight can make a big difference in how you feel. Learn about Scale Down for Relief.
- Watch what your drink: Energy drinks, alcohol, soda, coffee, and caffeinated teas can irritate the stomach lining and trigger your symptoms. Carbonation may also contribute to symptoms of GERD. Try water or herbal teas instead.
- Minimize fats: Fatty foods take longer to digest, which means they’re more likely to result in an episode of reflux. Replace deep fried foods with options that are baked or broiled, and try lean chicken and fish instead of higher fat red meats.
- Watch your portions: Eat slowly, chew completely, and stop as you begin to feel full – not when you feel so stuffed you cannot move. Large meals overextend your stomach, causing acid reflux.
- Eliminate your trigger foods: If you notice certain foods make your symptoms worse, avoid them as much as possible. Tomatoes, chocolate, onions, garlic, citrus, and spicy foods are common culprits.
- Wait two hours after eating: Bending over or lying down shortly after eating can make it difficult for the LES to function since it has to work against gravity in those positions. Try to remain upright for a few hours after eating to keep the keep your meal where it belongs – inside the stomach.
- Sleep with the upper body within an elevated position: If your GERD symptoms keep you up at night, defy gravity by lying in your bed with your upper body raised in order to keep stomach contents right where they belong.
- Stop smoking: Smoking makes reflux symptoms worse and increases your risk of certain cancers. This is a difficult change to make, but it can result in dramatic improvements in your health.
Some will find that diet and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to completely eliminate their symptoms. If you’ve made these changes and still have symptoms, then you should consider trying the lowest dose of the least powerful medication needed to control your symptoms to your satisfaction. That last part is key. You shouldn’t have to suffer. If you’re struggling to control your symptoms and nothing seems to work, it’s time to see a GERD expert to explore your options.