Millions of Americans experience heartburn and its more serious cousin, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), every day. A bitter mouth, constant coughing and chronic fatigue are just a few of the common symptoms, and they can wreak havoc on sleep, mood and overall quality of life.
Fortunately, GERD and other forms of acid reflux are almost entirely preventable and there are ways to reduce acid reflux. While some people are more susceptible than others, some lifestyle choices can exacerbate or alleviate the condition. The following are 10 tips that may help you cut down on your heartburn and eat worry-free once again.
1. Avoid Problem Foods
All too often, heartburn patients look first to antacids. These drugs do work when you’re already suffering, or when you know you’re about to eat something that aggravates the condition — but they’re not a long-term fix. A better bet is to find your triggers and avoid them or reduce their consumption. Problem foods vary from one person to the next, but the following are common among most people with GERD.
- Citrus, tomatoes and other acidic fruits
- Coffee and tea
- Spicy foods
2. Lower the Fat
It’s disappointing but true — fatty, greasy foods like burgers and fries can wreak havoc on your digestive system. Fats cause your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax, allowing food to travel back up the esophagus and into your throat. At the same time, they delay stomach emptying, leaving a longer window of time in which partially digested food can cause problems. To reduce symptoms, try eating leaner cuts of meat, and cut down on your use of butter and oils when you cook.
3. Eat Smaller Meals
Even low-fat meals can cause symptoms if they’re large enough. To allow for easier, pain-free digestion, eat smaller portions throughout the day, instead of filling up at two or three large meals. Smaller portions will also make it easy to control your caloric intake — another factor in acid reflux.
4. Move After Eating
Your digestive system is essentially a long, intricate tube, and gravity plays a major role in digestion. As tempting as a post-lunch nap may be, try to avoid lying down after meals, and take a short walk if possible. An upright position and extra movement will help to facilitate digestion and prevent reflux.
5. Sleep Elevated
Likewise, you may want to stay elevated if most of your symptoms occur at night after dinner. Raise your bed or use a wedge-shaped support for your upper back. A slightly upright position will keep your esophagus pointed downwards while still allowing for a good night’s sleep.
6. Consider Your Medications
Many drugs interfere with the digestive process and irritate an inflamed esophagus. You probably can’t come off everything cold turkey, but you should at least understand which medications may be contributing to the problems. Be sure to talk to your doctor before stopping a prescribed medication. The biggest culprits include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen
- Albuterol and other asthma medications
- Calcium channel blockers
- Seasonal allergy medications
- Sedatives and painkillers
7. Chewing Gum
Believe it or not, chewing gum may actually reduce your acid reflux symptoms. A number of studies suggest that chewing a piece after meals helps to keep fluids in your stomach, and that the extra saliva from chewing can reduce irritation in an already inflamed throat.
8. Baking Soda
It’s not as appetizing as a piece of gum, but baking soda is a natural antacid. Try drinking a teaspoon mixed in a glass of water immediately following a meal. It can quickly neutralize stomach acid, but be warned: Just like pharmaceutical antacids, baking soda is only a temporary fix.
9. Cut Back on Alcohol and Tobacco
Like fatty foods, alcohol and tobacco cause the LES to relax, making it much more likely that stomach contents will come back up into the esophagus. Smoking also causes you to produce less saliva, and alcohol dehydrates you, both of which will make your symptoms worse.
10. Losing Weight
Obesity is one of the leading causes of GERD, and like many metabolic and digestive conditions, acid reflux tends to improve as you lose weight. Why? Research is still under way, but many experts believe that extra belly fat increases pressure on the stomach, forcing food and acid back up through the esophagus.
There is no special weight loss diet specifically for acid reflux patients, however. As with other conditions exacerbated by obesity, a gradual process of healthy dieting, exercise and consultation with a medical professional is key to reducing your symptoms and improving your health. To learn how you can get to a healthy weight, attend a Fisher-Titus weight loss seminar. Sign up today!