Almost everyone experiences a little acid reflux from time to time, particularly after a heavy meal. Evidence indicates that approximately 36 percent of otherwise healthy Americans experience heartburn, also called acid indigestion, at least once a month.
After a meal, the valve between the esophagus and stomach, the gastroesophageal sphincter, usually remains closed. When it relaxes at an inappropriate time, this allows a portion of stomach contents to travel backwards into the esophagus, resulting in a burning sensation.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) sometimes occurs without symptoms. Most frequently, at least some of the following are present:
- Persistent heartburn that is increased by bending over, lying down, or eating
- Difficulty or discomfort with swallowing
- Early satiety or feeling full quickly, belching
- Chronic cough or wheezing, asthma, sinusitis
- Hoarseness or laryngitis, throat clearing
- Nausea and vomiting
Things that may Worsen Symptoms
When a hiatal hernia is present, reflux can occur more easily. Normally the diaphragm muscle is located above the stomach and aids in the proper functioning of the stomach/esophagus valve. When a hiatal hernia is present, the upper portion of the stomach has moved above the diaphragm. From this position, the diaphragm can not exert as much influence over the valve.
Obesity, pregnancy and smoking can also contribute to GERD. Additionally, many medications, especially those that delay stomach emptying or increase stomach acid, can increase the risk of reflux.
To Reduce Problems
Many individuals eat a highly restrictive diet due to their fear of experiencing reflux. This can be harmful to overall health and may result in a worsening of the disease.
It can be helpful to keep a detailed food diary. Record any incidence of symptoms and the times at which they occur. This is the best way to determine which foods and beverages are problematic.
Many things can increase acid reflux. However, there is a great deal of individual variation as to what aggravates symptoms. Caffeine, alcohol, onions, mint and chocolate relax the esophagus/stomach valve and thereby increase risk of reflux. Those who add table salt to food appear to have a higher risk of GERD than those who never add salt.
Here’s a list of things that may increase reflux:
- Coffee and caffeinated beverages
- Alcohol, especially beer
- Greasy, fatty and rich foods
- Fast Food and Pizza
- Carbonated Beverages
- Peppermint and All Mint-Flavored Food, Drink and Gums
- Tomatoes, including all tomato products, and citrus
- Cabbage Family Vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale and collards)
- Large Meals and Drinks
- Garlic and Onions
- Spicy Foods
Many drink milk before bedtimeto prevent symptoms, but it actually has the opposite effect. Putting anything into the stomach before laying down increases the risk of reflux. Additionally, milk, alcohol, caffeinated beverages and carbonated drinks all promote acid production. Drinking a can of beer can double stomach acid within one hour.
Standard Treatment Options
There are many treatment strategies for the resolution of GERD. They may include one or more of the following:
a) Eat small frequent meals. Don’t have a large drink, but sip throughout the day.
b) Simple whole grain cereals like cooked oatmeal are recommended as non-stimulating to the gastroesophageal sphincter.
c) Green vegetables are easy to digest and contain many bioactive compounds that promote healing.
d) Avoid cold food and drinks because they slow down digestion. They take time to come to body temperature. Many people with GERD already have reduced intestinal motility, so anything that could further slow transit time is contraindicated. When food remains in the stomach too long before emptying into the small intestine, the likelihood of gastric reflux increases.
a) Avoid smoking.
b) Lose excess weight, the biggest contributor to acid reflux. This reduces abdominal pressure.
c) Wear loose-fitting clothes.
d) Avoid lying down for at least three hours after meals.
e) Raise the head of the bed six to eight inches, and sleep on the left side.
f) It may be helpful to take a short walk before going to bed. Physical activity improves overall health and facilitates good digestion.
- Additional Options – Medications and Surgery
Alternative and Complementary Therapies
What follows is a number of possible venues for reducing acid reflux, healing inflamed tissues and promoting digestive health. Consultation with a physician or other trusted healthcare professional is highly recommended.
1. Chewing gum immediately after a meal or at the onset of reflux has been found helpful for many. It can increase the volume of saliva by almost 140 percent. Additionally, saliva contains many compounds that provide protection for esophageal tissues, including proteins, mucin, prostaglandin E2 and epidermal growth factor.
2. Aloe vera is a natural antacid and is highly soothing to inflamed tissues. Taking small sips of aloe gel can help soothe the burn after an episode of reflux. An ounce or two taken 10 minutes before each meal for up to six weeks promotes healing of inflamed tissues.
3. Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL): A chewable from enzymatic therapy is highly recommended by many acid reflux sufferers. The suggested dose is to take two tablets 20 minutes before meals, three times a day or shortly before bedtime for those who suffer nighttime reflux.
4. Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory. It can be helpful for many digestive tract disorders. Some helpful uses of ginger include ginger tea, ginger capsules and adding a slice of the fresh rhizome to a smoothie.
5. Many have found relief via a supplement containing an extract from citrus peel known as d-limonene which provides a protective coating for both the stomach and esophagus. Another supplement that is most highly recommended is Jarrow Formulas d-Limonene.
6. Many also find Betaine hydrochloride helpful, particularly for those who’ve taken antacids over a long period. Betaine is a vitamin-like substance found in grains and other foods. The most popular product is Now Foods, Betaine HCl.
It is difficult to wean off antacid medication if you have been taking them for long periods of time. When the stomach is deprived of acid because of these medications, it counter balances by producing more acid-secreting cells to compensate. A spike of hyperacidity can result when stopping these drugs. The solution is to slowly taper off, under physician supervision, while taking steps to remedy underlying causes and explore safer, more natural treatment options.
GERD is one of the most prevalent illnesses in the United States, affecting over 15 million individuals. The incidence is increasing, partially due to rising rates of obesity.
The good news is that most people have the potential to become symptom-free through prudent dietary and lifestyle choices. The difficult part is that it takes discipline and perseverance, but healthy habits pay back manifold in better health overall with reduced risk for most other forms of chronic illness.
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