My clients are often surprised that changing their eating habits alone can relieve the acid reflux symptoms. The key strategy is to do it right and to be consistent.
Many people around the globe and some of my clients struggle with the symptoms of acid reflux but not many know that acid reflux is not necessarily caused by having too much gastric acid but rather the acid is in the wrong place. It’s a common misconception about acid reflux to think that we have too much of gastric acid. On the contrary, the plentiful of people suffering from acid reflux have rather hypochlorhydria (too little stomach acid) than hyperchlorhydria (too much stomach acid).
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux is a common gastrointestinal complain with symptomology of heartburn, a burning pain in the lower chest. It’s driven by stomach acid flowing back up to the esophagus (the food pipe). It can happen for example when increased intra-abdominal pressure overpowers the lower esophageal sphincter (LES, a ring muscle), as seen in people with hiatal hernia or obesity. The esophageal sphincter acts as a valve preventing stomach acid, stomach content from backing up into esophagus. When this system fails, we may experience the symptoms of acid reflux. Noteworthy, reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus is normal physiology. However, when reflux (occurring frequently) leads to symptoms, esophageal mucosal injury or both, we talk about gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Acid reflux symptoms
Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux and some patients perceive it as an angina-like chest pain. Functional heartburn has the same symptoms without signs of reflux. Some people experience regurgitation which is a rise of gastric content into the mouth with sour/bitter tasting, without associated nausea or retching. Other symptoms of reflux may include hoarseness, cough, and asthma as well as pharyngitis, sinusitis, pulmonary fibrosis, recurrent otitis media, and sleep apnea. Some individuals will also experience bloating, burping, difficulty swallowing, hiccups, or nausea. Interpret these symptoms as your body sending you signals that there is something going on. “Treating” them with anti-acids and over-the-counter drugs (H2 blockers, aginate drugs, or proton pomp inhibitors), may help relieving the symptoms however will not address the underlying cause.
How to stop acid reflux?
The best to stop acid reflux is to find the underlying cause. Sometimes your own detective work will be enough and sometimes you may need some testing to find out what’s behind it.
Regardless of the cause, one of the most effective ways to reduce acid reflux is to invest in healthy eating habits.
- Eat healthy foods. I am sure you have heard many times to eat healthy and you might be tired of it but if you want your digestive system to function at its best, a healthy diet is a must. Make your own meals by using fresh, real foods and by skipping processed foods. Go mentally back in time, before the convenient foods existed, what would you eat then? A home-made soup or an instant powder soup? A lollipop or a handful of berries? There is a difference not only in their taste, but also in their nutrient content. Keep it simple and avoid CRAP: processed foods, alcohol, sodas, artificial sweeteners, fried foods; and TRIGGER foods such as spicy foods, garlic, onion, tomatoes, chocolate and coffee.
- Go for cooked over raw. When having digestive complaints, it’s often better to eat cooked (and warm if you like) foods over raw and cold foods, they are more soothing and easier to digest.
- Chew well. Eat mindfully without rushing, CHEW your food properly (20 times before swallowing). Make eating moments mindful, look at your food, smell it, taste and savor it. It’s not only important what we eat but also how we eat. Proper chewing promotes better digestion. Be consistent with it.
- Drink chamomile, peppermint, or ginger tea, or cabbage juice. Some people find a relief after having yoghurt or milk.
- Avoid large meals. Don’t overeat, eat 4 to 6 small meals at fixed times. Don’t eat 2-4 hours before going to bed, especially heavy to digest meals.
- Stay well hydrated BUT do not drink a lot with your meals as this increases the volume of the stomach and its contents. Drink mostly between meals.
- Try slippery elm bark tea or chew on the bark, it has been used for generations to relief acid reflux.
- Be physically active but keep it moderate, do something you enjoy.
- Sleep with your head and upper body slightly elevated.
- Consider stress management activities such as yoga, psychological therapy, relaxation, exercise, mindfulness – if you feel like stress is overtaking your life.
- Consider chiropractic adjustment, osteopathic care or acupuncture.
What causes acid reflux?
- Eating unhealthy and eating too much. A typical western diet rich in simple carbohydrates (sugars and starches), processed foods, and little vegetables promotes dysfunction of the digestive system and as a consequence acid reflux may occur. Often, when we eat convenient foods, we also have a tendency to overeat.
- Obesity. Obesity is commonly associated with acid reflux and GERD. The access weight can put extra pressure on the valves and sphincter causing stomach acid release.
- Hiatal hernia. Hiatal hernia is an abdominal abnormality observed when the upper part of the stomach and lower esophageal sphincter (LES) move above the diaphragm. In this scenario, acid can move up into the esophagus causing acid reflux symptoms. The diaphragm is a muscle helping to keep gastric acid in our stomach. Consider osteopathic or chiropractic care.
- Overtraining. High impact exercises and overtraining can put extra pressure on your abdomen triggering acid reflux.
- Wearing tight-fitting clothes, lying down, bending over.
- Smoking cigarettes. Smoking increases acid production and can contribute to GERD or acid reflux.
- Certain medications and supplements such as antibiotics, muscle relaxers, blood pressure drugs, ibuprofen, potassium and iron supplements can affect the functioning of the digestive system and cause acid reflux.
- Helicobacter pylori infection. Infection with H. pylori can manifest itself with heartburn. If you suspect it may play a role in your complaints, get yourself tested.
- Low magnesium. Low magnesium can influence muscle tension and impair the function of the esophageal sphincter by not retaining the acid in the gastric cavity.
- Chronic cough, stress, food sensitivities foods can also contribute to acid reflux.
- Digestive issues. Think of reduced saliva causing decreased digestive buffering, poor digestive esophageal motor function causing reduced food clearance, or poor gastric emptying causing increased refluxate.
- Underdeveloped GI tract as by babies, may also promote acid reflux because the digestive tract does not work optimally yet.
- Pregnancy. During the pregnancy growing fetus can put extra pressure on the esophageal valve and this may promote the release of gastric acid and symptoms of heartburn.
If your symptoms do not subside after improving your eating habits and lifestyle, please seek medical help to properly evaluate the underlying cause. Long-term acid reflux (GERD) can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, manifested as esophageal scarring and constriction which leads to swallowing disorders.
Information provided here is meant for educational purposes only, and does not constitute medical or nutritional advice or act as a substitute for seeking such advice from a qualified health professional.
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