Acid reflux (also known as gastroesophageal reflux) occurs when highly acidic stomach contents come back up the esophagus. If acid reflux consistently occurs, one may be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD. GERD may develop when one’s lower esophageal sphincter (AKA LES- the valve that separates the esophagus and stomach) weakens or is forced open, allowing food contents to travel back up the esophagus. This can cause painful symptoms such as heartburn, a sore throat, and regurgitation due to the highly acidic nature of stomach acid.
Habits to Help Acid Reflux
Luckily, most cases of acid reflux are prevented by several lifestyle habits. Those most at risk for developing active reflux or GERD are those who are overweight, who overeat, smoke, and frequently drink alcohol. However, some foods can cause the LES to relax or recruit irritating histamines and then trigger acid reflux such as citrus, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, and fatty or spicy foods. Because these food triggers are highly dependent on the individual, we recommend cutting out these foods and seeing if your acid reflux symptoms reduce or resolve. If symptoms still occur, this may indicate other health problems such as gastritis, ulcers in the stomach, small intestine, or an allergic condition in the esophagus (called eosinophilic esophagitis).
In most cases, acid reflux can be remedied without medication through lifestyle changes. First, we recommend eating slower and chewing each bite thoroughly. When we eat fast, our stomach will quickly fill, making it easier for food to reflux back into the esophagus. Eating smaller portioned meals, also called “grazing,” will discourage reflux due to less food being stored in the stomach, meaning it’s less likely to reflux into the esophagus.
Next, we recommend avoiding foods that are known to trigger reflux including spicy and fatty foods, tomato, caffeine, carbonated beverages chocolate, and alcohol. Additionally, we suggest quitting smoking due to nicotine’s muscle-relaxing properties (meaning it will weaken your esophageal sphincter muscles).
We also recommend getting to the root of bloat. If you are bloated in your small intestine, the pressure of the gas build-up can place upward pressure on the stomach and push/force stomach acid and contents up the esophagus.
In order to discourage movement of stomach contents, we also recommend avoiding vigorous exercise for at least two hours after eating. Lastly, sleeping on an incline (let gravity do the work!) may also ease acid reflux. Using a wedge-shaped pillow can give you proper sleep support for your upper body while discouraging stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.
Foods that Reduce Acid Reflux
Worried about cutting out your favorite reflux-inducing foods? Luckily, there are plenty of foods that can reduce acid reflux! High-fiber foods will make you feel full, making you less likely to overeat. Our favorite fibrous foods are whole grains found in oatmeal and brown rice, root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots, and green vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, and asparagus. Less acidic, (high pH) foods can also neutralize the acidity of stomach acid. Examples of alkaline foods include: nuts, fennel, cauliflower, melons, and bananas. Similarly, water-based foods can dilute the acidity of stomach acid due to their high-water content. Water-based foods include celery, lettuce, watermelon, and cucumber.
Supplements that may Reduce Acid Reflux
Supplements are also a great solution at keeping reflux at bay! We recommend taking a daily fiber powder, which will not only make you feel more full, but will also feed the anti-inflammatory microbes in your gut and help with more complete bowel emptying. More specifically, look for fiber powders containing around 5-10 grams of psyllium fiber. You can also consider reflux relief chews such as mastic gum with L-Glutamine, aloe, marshmallow root, and licorice root. Lastly, taking 5 mg of melatonin at nighttime has been proven to suppress excess stomach acid and strengthen lower esophageal sphincter structure. We recommend you always ask your care team if a new supplement is safe for you to take based on your diet, lifestyle, conditions, medications, and other supplements you may already take. If you don’t currently have anyone on your care team who is knowledgeable about supplements, schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian who can guide you and help you optimize your #GoodGut!
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Gupta, E. (n.d.). GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn). Johns Hopkins Medicine. hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/gerd-diet-foods-that-help-with-acid-reflux-heartburn
Harvard Medical School. (2021, November 16). 9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication. Harvard Health Publishing.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease [NIDDK]. (2022). Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Adults. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults
University of Rochester Medical Center. (2022). Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn.