Natural remedies for GERD
Feeling the burn? That painful sensation in your chest or throat — acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease when ongoing and disruptive — isn’t intractable. Lifestyle and dietary tweaks can bring relief, experts say. “Simple (changes) can make a big difference,” says gastroenterologist Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, author of “The Acid Reflux Solution.” That’s promising, since researchers warn that heartburn drugs may do more harm than good for GERD, increasing the risk of infection with an intestinal bacteria or even the likelihood of contracting pneumonia. Here are 11 easy ways to alleviate heartburn without swallowing a pill:
Adjust your sleep position.
Most acid reflux occurs during sleep. To prevent nighttime attacks, “you need to position your head at an angle,” so it’s higher than your abdomen, Rodriguez says. Elevate the head of your bed a minimum of 30 degrees, perhaps with a firm foam-rubber wedge or by putting bricks under your bedposts. “The worst thing you can do is lie flat down, especially right after eating.” Also, try sleeping on your left side. Research from the Stanford School of Medicine suggests that snoozing on your right side worsens reflux. So does sleeping on your stomach.
Wait longer between meals and bedtime.
You shouldn’t be going to bed immediately after eating, says Dr. Jacqueline Wolf, a gastroenterologist and an associate professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Wait at least two hours between meals or snacks and hitting the sack. “I really believe it should be three hours or longer,” says Wolf, author of “A Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Stomach: Taking Control of Your Digestive Health.”
Maintain a healthy weight.
Typically, a group of muscles between the stomach and the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter, works with the diaphragm to prevent stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus. If this normally tight sphincter becomes too loose or relaxed, reflux can occur. Maintaining a healthy weight is helpful, since extra body fat puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. Many studies show that obesity worsens reflux, Wolf says. “Obesity for sure is a risk factor for reflux and inflammation of the esophagus,” she says. “And losing weight often improves reflux.”
Chew your food well.
Forget wolfing down your meals. Digestion begins in the mouth, and if you don’t chew your food well, you’re asking for trouble. Chew each bite for 20 seconds.
Eat less but more often.
Portion control is key to managing acid reflux, Rodriguez says. Reduce the size of all your meals, but schedule more frequent, evenly spaced snacks. And only eat until you’re satisfied, not until you’re stuffed. Overeating causes the stomach to stretch more than normal, increasing the production of gastric acid. “Small portions are the way to go,” Rodriguez says.
Cut carbs and fatty foods.
In one study by researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, obese GERD patients who curtailed their carbohydrate intake to 20 grams a day or less experienced a substantial decrease in acidity and symptoms. If cutting carbs doesn’t help after about two weeks, try another tactic. High-fat foods can also cause problems. “Fatty foods both delay gastric emptying as well as increasing cholecystokinin,” Wolf explains. This hormone stimulates the gallbladder to release more bile into the digestive system.
Avoid other reflux-triggering foods.
Garlic and onions can also worsen GERD symptoms. Mint is another culprit, which may come as a surprise. Mint tea and after-dinner mints may relax digestion but they exacerbate reflux, Wolf says. “Mint eases that high-pressure zone between the esophagus and the stomach,” she says. “And hence, you have more acid reflux.” Apple cider vinegar won’t hurt but likely won’t ease acid reflux, either. Although apple cider vinegar is often touted as a home remedy for GERD, it doesn’t work, Wolf says.
Loosen your belt.
If your belt is too tight or your jeans are too small, there will be more pressure on your stomach — and less room for food. That can trigger the release of extra acid, while stressing the lower esophageal sphincter.
Choose post-meal activities wisely.
Exercising after eating? Bending over after a meal? Both are tickets to the heartburn hotel. Sitting up in bed at night watching TV after eating doesn’t help either. “You’re actually putting a lot of pressure on your abdomen — you’re not really upright,” Wolf says. “Most people are lounging down on their pillow.”
Quit smoking and cut back on alcohol.
Research suggests that both smoking and alcohol contribute to GERD. Smoking stimulates the production of stomach acid, so by quitting smoking, you reduce your chances of reflux in addition to the many other cessation benefits. Excessive drinking also triggers reflux — it helps to learn what moderate alcohol consumption really means.
You’ll produce more saliva, which neutralizes stomach acid, research suggests. Chew a piece or two before bedtime. (Hint: You might want to choose a non-mint flavor.)
Natural remedies for GERD
Reduce acid reflux and GERD with these expert tips:
— Adjust your sleep position.
— Wait longer between meals and bedtime.
— Maintain a healthy weight.
— Chew food thoroughly.
— Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
— Cut down on carbs and fatty foods.
— Avoid triggers like garlic, onions and mint.
— Loosen your belt.
— Don’t exercise soon after eating.
— Quit smoking and reduce alcohol.
— Try chewing gum.
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Update 03/29/19: This story was originally published on Sept. 5, 2014, and has been updated with new information.