Lifestyle changes are the most effective way to control mild gastric acid reflux symptoms. To be effective, these changes should be incorporated into your existing lifestyle; however, they shouldn’t be so stringent that they are too difficult to adopt. These lifestyle changes are designed to decrease the stresses placed on your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and prevent the progression of your disease.
Select carefully what you eat
There are many foods that can trigger GERD symptoms. Although everyone is unique, this is a good list of foods to avoid:
- Carbonated beverages
- Citrus fruits
- Drinks with caffeine
- Garlic and onions
- Spicy foods
- Fatty or fried foods
- Tomato-based foods
Finding recipes that avoid these trigger foods is a challenge. We hope you will consider RefluxMD’s Recipe for Relief that offers 21 daily meal plans and over 90 GERD-friendly recipes.
LEARN MORE: Five steps to an acid reflux diet
Always exercise portion control
Your LES is most effective as a barrier to reflux when the stomach is not overfilled or distended. This can be avoided by consuming smaller meals that do not put the LES barrier under stress.
Control your weight
Weight gain increases the risk of gastric acid reflux. To become obese, we consume more food and the stomach distends frequently which damages the LES, leading to reflux. To make things worse, obese people carry excess weight in their abdominal wall, which increases pressure on the abdomen. Adjusting the dietary intake with the objective of reducing weight will most likely reduce your heartburn. If you think your weight is a potential cause of your symptom, we recommend that you consider our GERD-friendly weight loss solution, Scale Down for Relief.
If you smoke – stop immediately
Smoking contributes to the weakening of the LES that encourages gastric acid reflux. Smoking has been proven to be a risk factor for multiple cancers, including esophageal cancer and lung cancer.
Avoid tight-fitting clothes
Tight clothes or tight belts put pressure on the abdomen. This mimics the same issue that exists with an obese or overweight individual as noted above.
Diaphragm exercises for lower esophageal sphincter augmentation
The LES is the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus that prevents reflux. The LES is augmented by the diaphragm that surrounds the lower esophagus. Unlike the LES, an involuntary muscle that cannot be strengthened by exercise, the diaphragm is a voluntary muscle that can be strengthened. Although clinical research has not yet proven that exercising the diaphragm will improve the LES’ barrier capabilities, the following exercise can do no harm and may provide some symptom improvement.
Diaphragm exercise is a conscious technique of breathing using the diaphragm, rather than using the lungs and the chest, to create each breath. This means expanding the abdomen to inhale and then contracting the abdomen without exhaling. Do this abdominal exercise 5 – 10 times, then exhale. Repeat this process 10 times. It may help to place your hands on your abdomen to maintain the focus on the expansion and contraction of your stomach. This exercise can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. However, caution should be taken initially since excessive and deep breathing can induce hyperventilation. Hyperventilation may occur, so if you feel light-headed at any time, stop the exercise and attempt it again the next day.
Sleep and GERD symptoms
If your GERD is impacting your sleep, there are several recommendations that you should consider:
- Try sleeping on your left side rather than the right side or on your back or stomach.
- Raise the head of the bed by placing books or a brick under the headboard. The upper part of the bed only needs to be elevated 3 or 4 inches to be effective. Extra pillows tend to work poorly since they tend to bend the neck rather than elevating the entire chest. If you’re looking for a commercially available product, be sure to look for one that elevates the entire torso.
- Stay in an upright position, sitting or standing, for at least 30 minutes after dinner.
- Eat an early dinner and do not go to bed for at least 3 hours after dinner. Although this may be a difficult recommendation to follow, it has proven to be very effective in reducing heartburn symptoms.
LEARN MORE: How to treat GERD with elevation therapy
Reviewed by: Dr. Chandrasoma, RefluxMD Scientific Director