GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is unfortunately, common among Americans. The occasional bout of heartburn is uncomfortable enough, but the constant reflux of acid into your esophagus is painful and can cause tissue damage and even cancer.
As daunting as this may seem, there are ways to treat GERD and relieve symptoms, so your life doesn’t have to skip a beat. Thanks to over 60 million Americans suffering with reflux, numerous heartburn and antacid drugs have been developed.
Unfortunately, many of these only offer temporary relief and often come with a host of additional risks and unpleasant side effects. The good news is that with a few lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as supplemental support, you can reduce occurrences of acid reflux and prevent GERD symptoms naturally.
What Is GERD and How Do I Identify It?
GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter between your stomach and esophagus does not close properly. This allows stomach acid to flow back up into your esophagus. Because the tissue of your esophagus is thin and sensitive, the acid burns and causes pain as well as damage. It is important to identify that you have the condition.
Should you detect these common symptoms, have your doctor confirm the diagnosis. Leaving GERD untreated can lead to serious problems, including esophageal cancer. Signs may be:
- A sour taste in your mouth
- The feeling of a lump in your throat
- Frequent heartburn
In order to easily help yourself mitigate and relieve GERD here are important steps to follow. From lifestyle changes to natural remedies, there are a lot of options at your disposal.
- Watch What You Eat
The lower esophageal sphincter can open as a result of being under too much pressure. Overeating and filling your stomach can cause unnecessary pressure on the sphincter.
This causes it to open during digestion, when it should be closed, and acid can flow through. Most reflux happens after eating; the larger the meal, the more likely reflux will be. Eating lighter meals is one way to minimize this risk.
- Lose Weight
Your diaphragm is a muscle above your stomach that naturally gives strength to the esophageal sphincter. However, being overweight tends to place additional pressure on your diaphragm, which can allow the sphincter to weaken. By losing weight, specifically from your abdomen, you can reduce the risk of GERD.
- Change Your Diet
Diets that are low in carbohydrates are more favorable for those with GERD. Undigested carbohydrates can cause bacterial overgrowth in your gut, increasing pressure on your stomach. Several studies have found that a low-carb diet can reduce GERD symptoms.
There are also certain foods you want to avoid, like raw onion, which have been associated with increased acid production and heartburn. This also includes chocolate, as it has been found to weaken the esophageal sphincter.
Just as there are foods to avoid, there are also foods to help soothe GERD symptoms:
- Ginger has been used to relieve acid reflux for centuries and can be easily added to a meal or drank as a tea afterwards.
- Mixing baking soda with water may not taste great, but the bicarbonate helps to neutralize stomach acid. After a heavy meal (which you should avoid), bicarbonate may be just what you need to settle an acidic stomach down.
- Drinks Matter Too
Alcohol is the number one drink to avoid if you have GERD, as it increases stomach acid production and causes the esophageal sphincter to relax. Coffee also weakens the sphincter, which is why decaffeinated beverages are recommended to avoid reflux and heartburn.
Since stomach acid is a major player in GERD, limiting acidic drinks, such as citrus juices, is advised to keep acid production levels minimal. Carbonation has also been shown to aggravate GERD symptoms, as the carbon dioxide used to create the bubbles causes burping, i.e., the perfect opportunity for stomach acid to escape.
- Bedtime Routine
You should aim to stop eating at least three hours before you go to bed. This allows adequate time for your stomach to digest your food and move it along into the intestines.
If any contents remain in your stomach when you lay down for bed, gravity will naturally push it towards the esophagus, allowing acid to escape. One additional precaution you can take it to sleep in a slightly elevated position, so that gravity works for you instead of against.
As previously mentioned, certain diets can allow for an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut and this causes reflux. To ensure your gut stays healthy and to maintain the appropriate bacterial balance in your gut, daily probiotics are recommended. Lifestyle choices, diet, and illness can callow harmful bacteria to take over, but probiotics keep the balance in check, protecting you from disease and GERD.
- Digestive Enzymes
Your body naturally produces digestive enzymes that help breakdown food efficiently. As we age, production of these enzymes slow, so we need to acquire additional support through supplements.
Digestive enzymes help to fully digest foods, so there is nothing undigested leftover to feed harmful bacteria. Additionally, these enzymes promote more efficient digestion, which means less acid is required in the stomach. By decreasing the presence of acid and promoting bacterial balance in the gut, digestive enzymes help to reduce and prevent GERD.
- Practice Good Posture
In order to keep the position of your esophagus elevated above your stomach, it is important to sit and stand straight. Slouching at a desk while you work causes your diaphragm and abdominal muscles to weaken, which in turn will increase pressure on the esophageal sphincter.
With GERD, keeping your upper body elevated throughout the day is just as important as elevating it you sleep.
The Bottom Line
GERD may be common, but it doesn’t have to have a starring role in your life. Regardless of how you develop GERD, there are options to treat it naturally. Make the necessary lifestyle and dietary changes, throw in some probiotics and digestive enzymes, and GERD will quickly become part of your past. With no heartburn to slow you down, you can look forward to a healthy future.