Here’s how to keep heartburn and GERD at bay.
There’s heartburn — mildly irritating — and then there’s Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, which is defined as two or more heartburn episodes per week and is a whole separate level of irksome agony.
This burning, painful feeling is experienced in the throat or chest and is caused by stomach acid that backs up into the esophagus. Different people experience heartburn for different reasons, but common triggers include a whole lot of our favorites:
- Fried, fatty foods
- Citrus and acidic foods like tomatoes
- Alcohol (a double whammy as it increases acid and relaxes the esophagus muscles)
- Spicy food
- Carbonated and caffeinated beverages
You are also more likely to experience reflux if you are pregnant, obese, smoke, wear tight clothing, take aspirin and other anti-inflammatories, and/or are constipated.
After avoiding the beloved items above and before medical intervention, there are several remedies to try to self-heal your reflux:
- Raise the head of your bed using blocks or bricks. Extra pillows don’t work but putting a slant to the bed uses gravity to keep your stomach’s contents on the downhill.
- Eat smaller meals earlier (at least three hours before lying down) and skip bedtime snacks.
- Slow down and chew each mouthful 20 times. Reflux can be your stomach’s way of revolting because you added too much food, too quickly.
- Loosen the clothes and belts that are tight around your abdomen to relieve the pressure on your stomach, which pushes acid up and out.
- Try an “elimination diet” to find other foods that bother you. Keep a journal of what you eat and the results of eating it. There are multiple recommendations for a GERD diet online but think low-fat and basic: baked chicken; steamed vegetables; and green, leafy salads with very little dressing.
For the love of all things tasty, must you always avoid the food you love? It’s worth it to go at least two weeks to see. You may have inflammation that just needs some extra time to heal. You can also try these additional supplements, which might do the trick:
- Ginger root (also capsules or tea)
- Camomile (tea or tincture)
- Aloe vera juice
- Chewing gum (any flavor but peppermint)
- Fennel, anise or caraway (seeds or tea)
- Apple cider vinegar or baking soda (diluted in warm water and sipped, both have been shown to help balance stomach PH)
Conservative Therapy for GERD
Lifestyle and diet changes are important components to acid reflux treatment, but, with chronic GERD, you may have to resort to over-the-counter and prescription medications to assist you in the fight. Contrary to popular belief, these medications aren’t designed to cure the cause of the reflux, but instead reduce symptoms by decreasing the production of acid in the stomach and protecting the lining of the esophagus from corrosive acid back flow.
Common GERD medications include:
- H-2 receptor blockers reduce acid-production in the stomach (over-the-counter and prescription).
- Proton pump inhibitors heal the esophagus by blocking acid production.
- Prokinetic agents speed the rate at which the stomach empties and tighten the valve between the stomach and the esophagus through which stomach acid escapes.
- For longterm suffering, ask your doctor about laparoscopic reflux surgery, which is performed to strengthen the valve between the esophagus and the stomach, reducing acid flow to the area and allowing the esophagus to heal.
Finally, ask your doctor about low stomach acid. Some research shows that decreased acid due to gut bacterial overgrowth may in fact be the cause of your intestinal distress.