Acid reflux is one of the more common, not to mention painful, side effects of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. The Florida Hospital estimates that more than 60 million adults in the United States suffer from symptoms of acid reflux each month, and almost half experience symptoms every day. Finding relief can be challenging, but there are a variety of treatments available, including some drug-free alternatives.
There is no cure for acid reflux, but there are ways to manage the condition and prevent permanent damage to the esophagus. Many people rely on proton-pump inhibitors, or PPIs, to keep acid reflux at bay. PPIs are one of the more commonly prescribed medications for acid reflux, and while they may be beneficial for short-term treatment of acid reflux, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently cautioned against prolonged use of PPIs. Many acid-stopping medications can inhibit nutrient absorption, reduce resistance to infection and may cause vitamin deficiencies. They also have been shown to increase the risk of bone fractures and dementia.
Rather than taking medication, some people might be able to make certain lifestyle changes to relieve acid reflux.
• Pay attention to the foods you eat. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, citrus fruits and even raisins, can increase the amount of acid in the stomach. Choose foods that are less likely to aggravate symptoms and can alleviate pain and flare-ups. Foods that will absorb acid are safe bets. For example, oatmeal is a filling, hearty food that can combat acid problems. Stick to lean poultry that is baked, broiled or grilled. Remove the fatty skin, as it may cause digestive issues.
• Use natural digestion enhancers. Remember those homespun remedies Mom used to whip up when you had an upset stomach? They can be equally effective for acid reflux. Ginger root has long been used to calm the stomach. Ginger can be made into tea or added to recipes and smoothies. Fennel, a licorice-flavored vegetable, may improve stomach function. Some people like to eat it after a meal to aid digestion. Parsley has been used as a medicinal herb to settle the stomach for thousands of years. Parsley can add flavor to meals and serve as an attractive garnish.
• Stock up on apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has uses beyond flavoring in favorite recipes. It also can soothe acid reflux symptoms. It’s believed the vinegar plays a role in maintaining healthy bacteria in the stomach, and that this bacteria eases digestion. Try mixing one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar into four ounces of water to drink before, during or after a meal. Apple cider vinegar also can be spread on salad.
• Practice portion control at mealtime. Overindulging at mealtime can cause intestinal discomfort, which may contribute to acid reflux. Opt for more frequent and smaller meals instead of larger infrequent ones. Also, remain upright for two to three hours after eating to promote good digestion.
• Elevate your head. If acid reflux symptoms tend to strike at night or while you are lying down, elevating your head in bed can help. Use pillows to prop yourself up or find another way to keep your head elevated until symptoms subside.
• Shed some pounds. Many doctors recommend weight loss to alleviate acid reflux. Losing 10 to 15 pounds can decrease pressure on the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter, which is the muscle at the band of the stomach and esophagus.
• Quit tobacco products. Smokers have a higher incidence of GERD than nonsmokers, so quitting smoking may help alleviate acid reflux symptoms. Even if stopping smoking has minimal effect on your acid reflux, it will still improve your overall health.
• Drink more water between meals. Water hydrates the body and flushes out toxins that can build up in the digestive tract. Water also may help dilute stomach acid. However, do not drink tons of water with a meal, as this may stimulate the stomach to produce more acid to maintain digestion. Chewing gum when water is not available can stimulate saliva production. Saliva is naturally alkaline and can counteract the overproduction of acid.
Acid reflux can be a nuisance or downright painful. Before reaching for medication, consider a few lifestyle changes to alleviate acid reflux.