What is acid reflux/GERD?
Occasional heartburn (acid reflux) can happen to anyone. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you experience acid reflux more than twice a week, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In this case, heartburn is just one of many symptoms along with coughing and chest pain.
GERD is first treated with over-the-counter methods, such as antacids and dietary changes. Prescription medications may be needed in more severe cases to prevent damage to the esophagus. While conventional medicine is the most common form of GERD treatment, there are some home remedies you can try to reduce instances of acid reflux. Talk to your gastroenterologist about the following options.
1. Aim for a healthy weight
While heartburn can happen to anyone, GERD seems to be most prevalent in adults who are overweight or obese. Excess weight — especially in the abdominal area — puts more pressure on the stomach. As a result, you’re at an increased risk of stomach acids working back into the esophagus and causing heartburn.
If you’re overweight, the Mayo Clinic suggests a steady weight loss plan of 1 or 2 pounds per week. On the flip side, if you are already considered to be at a healthy weight, then make sure you maintain it with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
2. Know which foods to avoid
No matter what your weight, there are certain known trigger foods that can increase your risk for acid reflux. With GERD, you should be especially wary of items that can lead to symptoms. Try avoiding the following foods:
- tomato sauce and other tomato-based products
- high-fat foods, such as fast food products and greasy foods
- fried foods
- citrus fruit juices
By limiting or avoiding these triggers altogether, you may experience fewer symptoms. You may also want to keep a food diary to help identify problem foods.
3. Eat a little, sit up a little longer
Eating smaller meals puts less pressure on the stomach, which can prevent the backflow of stomach acids. By eating smaller amounts of food more frequently, you can reduce heartburn and eat fewer calories overall.
It’s also important to avoid lying down after eating. Doing so can trigger heartburn. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends waiting 2 to 3 hours after eating. (Once you do go to bed, try elevating your head with some extra pillows to avoid nighttime heartburn.)
4. Eat foods that help
There is no one magic food that can treat acid reflux. Still, aside from avoiding trigger foods, a few other dietary changes can help. First, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends low-fat, high-protein meals. Reducing dietary fat intake can subsequently decrease your symptoms, while getting enough protein and fiber will keep you full and prevent overeating. Try incorporating some of these foods into your diet to help your acid reflux.
After each meal, you may even consider chewing non-mint gum. This can help increase saliva in your mouth and keep acid out of the esophagus.
5. Quit smoking
In case you needed another reason to quit smoking, heartburn is one of them. And this is a big one for people with GERD. Smoking damages the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is responsible for preventing stomach acids from backing up. When the muscles of the LES are weakened from smoking, you may experience more frequent heartburn episodes. It’s time to quit smoking. You will feel better.
Secondhand smoke can also be problematic if you’re fighting acid reflux or GERD. Here are some tips to help you quit smoking.
6. Explore potential herbal remedies
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following herbs have been used for GERD:
- slippery elm
These are available in supplement and tincture form, as well as teas. The downside to these herbs is that there aren’t enough studies to prove that they can actually treat GERD, despite what testimonials might report. Furthermore, they might interfere with medications you may take — check with a doctor before use. The FDA does not monitor herbs and supplements in the United States. Herbs can be a natural and effective way to reduce the symptoms of GERD. Be sure to purchase herbs from a reputable source.
7. Avoid tight clothing
There’s nothing wrong with wearing tight clothing — that is, unless you’re experiencing GERD symptoms. Wearing clothes that are too tight can increase acid reflux episodes. This is especially the case with tight bottoms and belts: Both place unnecessary pressure on the abdomen, thereby contributing to your heartburn risk. For the sake of acid reflux, loosen up.
8. Try relaxation techniques
GERD itself can be very stressful. Since esophageal muscles play a large role in keeping stomach acids down where they belong, it may help to learn techniques that can relax both your body and mind. Yoga has enormous benefits by promoting mind-body awareness. If you’re not a yogi, you can even try quiet meditation and deep breathing for a few minutes several times a day to tame your stress levels.
Home remedies can help alleviate the occasional heartburn episode, as well as some cases of GERD. When prolonged, uncontrolled acid reflux occurs, you put yourself at a higher risk of esophageal damage. This can include ulcers, a narrowed esophagus, and even esophageal cancer.
Still, it’s important to know that home remedies alone may not work for acid reflux and GERD. Talk to a gastroenterologist about how some of these remedies can complement a medical treatment plan.