WASHINGTON — Cases of acid reflux are on the rise. Government statistics show about 60 percent of American adults experience it at some point during the year, and we spend billions on over-the-counter remedies.
The condition occurs when stomach acid moves into the esophagus. Heartburn and indigestion are the most common symptoms; however, there’s also a malady known as “airway reflux,” which can cause coughing, wheezing, and other signs of respiratory trouble.
The American diet is largely to blame for the increase in acid reflux. But it seems when you eat is just as important as what you eat.
“Eating later and later is certainly a set up for this to happen,” says Dr. Daphne Keshishian, a Bethesda internist who writes and lectures about the impact of food on health.
She says reclining after eating can both cause reflux and make it worse. A large meal rich in fatty foods, downed with alcoholic or carbonated beverages, is especially problematic because it’s much more difficult to digest.
“It gives more work to the stomach and causes the stomach to make more acid,” Keshishian explains. Eating right before bedtime “can increase the symptoms of reflux and the presence of reflux in an otherwise healthy person,” she continues.
Keshishian, who writes a blog about culinary medicine, says it’s best to get moving after a heavy meal, so the body is better able to handle a spike in glucose and get the digestive process going.
“Going to sleep right after a big meal takes away a lot of our natural ability to help digest the food,” she says.
A doctor-turned-amateur chef and nutrition expert, Keshishian says it’s best to eat at least two to three hours before bedtime.
She suggests taking a tip from her Greek ancestors, who believed in having their biggest meal in the middle of the day.