Millions of people suffer from the painful and uncomfortable symptoms of acid reflux. From heartburn, abdominal pain, coughing, regurgitation, a sour acidic taste in the mouth, sore throat and vocal hoarseness, acid reflux surely is something sufferers want to reduce immediately.
What is acid reflux?
Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is found in the stomach and is an important part of the digestive process. Stomach acid is produced by the parietal cells in the stomach which secrete gastric juice to maintain an acidic pH which is essential for triggering digestive enzyme secretion and the absorption of certain minerals like magnesium, zinc, calcium and iron. As well as providing an important immune defense system against parasites, it wards off infections and food poisoning.
Acid reflux, or the more severe form which is called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), is caused by stomach acid backing up in the wrong direction. Our lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) is a little circular muscle which controls what gets into the stomach, and also prevents stomach contents leaking out again. When this isn’t working properly, acid can travel into the oesophagus, causing heartburn, regurgitation, nausea, and sometimes, trouble swallowing.
How to prevent acid reflux naturally
Over-the-counter remedies include different types of antacids and alginates that contain minerals which neutralise acidity, like Alka-Seltzer and Tums. Dosing yourself with these can be dangerous as they can contribute to other digestive issues and poor nutrient absorption. Be mindful that the symptoms of acid reflux can occasionally mirror heart attack symptoms so always talk to your doctor if your are experiencing harsh symptoms, like a searing, hot sensation in the chest.
For most people acid reflux is not caused by an excess of stomach acid. Rather, it's due to stomach acid being where it doesn’t belong. The muscle tone of the LES can naturally vary through life – babies for example, often suffer with reflux whilst their muscle develops. Women also frequently get heartburn while pregnant because of abdominal pressure caused by the position of the foetus. Disrupted sleep, medications, obesity, smoking, a high fat diet and alcohol can also make symptoms worse.
Some people believe that chronically low stomach acid either from medical conditions, like autoimmune conditions, surgery or from long term use of acid reducing drugs, can cause acid reflux even more. This has a range of other health effects and may increase sufferers’ susceptibility to mineral and vitamin deficiencies.
Low Stomach Acid is usually accompanied by bloating, a sensation of fullness after little food, belching, burning and flatulence immediately after meals. It feels like food sitting undigested in the stomach. Your doctor can do a test to measure stomach acidity if you suspect that low or high stomach acid may be a problem. There are also supplements that may help overall support gastrointestinal health which should be suggested by a qualified professional.
Quick relief from acid reflux
Most nutritional research is based on looking at diet, lifestyle and symptom correlation, rather than identifying which foods may actually cause acid reflux. However, there are a few things you can try to prevent and relieve symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. If you've been suffering long-term and have severe symptoms, please see your health-care professional to rule out other issues:
1. Avoid carminative herbs and teas
Herbal teas like mint and chamomile are usually seen as healing and soothing for digestive discomfort, but they may actually cause the LES to relax. This can acutally worsen the uncomfortable symptoms. Instead, opt for turmeric or ginger tea.
2. Elevate the head of your bed
For night time sufferers, this is a well-known tip to ease acid reflux. Try and raise the frame of your bed head rather than using multiple pillows. This can sometimes make the symptoms worse!
3. Keep a food diary
Foods that cause bloating may contribute to acid reflux by increasing intra-abdominal pressure. Specific carbohydrates (or high FODMAP foods) may cause issues for some sufferers. These are different types of sugars that are fermented by bacteria in the gut which release gas, causing bloating. Keeping a food diary to note down 'trigger foods' can be useful and help to guide your doctor, or Nutrition professional, if you seek support.
4. Reduce caffeine and spicy foods
Citrus, tomatoes and onions are common trigger foods for many people who suffer from acid reflux and heartburn. Lay off these foods and see if you notice any positive changes.
5. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
Obviously, drinking excessively and smoking can make the problem worse. Nicotine in particular may weaken the LES muscle.
6. Try aloe vera juice
It's been said that aloe vera can help soothe and calm oesophagul irritation. Look for products that have been specifically created as safe for internal use. Or, you look for a supplement that combines aloe vera with slippery elm, deglycyrrhizinised liquorice or marshmallow, which may help to support healing of the lining of the oesophagus.
7. Try to reduce fatty foods
Dietary fat is thought to trigger the relaxation of the LES muscle as it enters the small intestine. Dietary fat is also digested more slowly, delaying gastric emptying, which basically means the contents of your stomach sit there for longer. This increases stomach pressure, which can worsen acid reflux.
8. Reduce carbonated fizzy drinks
Fizzy soda or drinks can cause your stomach to fill with air, increasing pressure on the LES which can trigger the symptoms of acid reflux.
9. Include probiotic foods
Probiotics are important to support the microflora balance in your gut and help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. This can help to reduce digestive symptoms which can worsen acid reflux. Low fat unsweetened greek yoghurt, kefir, fermented vegetables and miso are all useful probiotic foods.
10. Eat small portions slowly
Eating slowly helps to avoid swallowing air which may worsen acid reflux by increasing stomach pressure. A bonus is that it also lowers stress levels which are associated with bouts of heartburn.
11. Try yoga and breathing techniques
There's some evidence that yoga may help increase LES muscle tone and support a reduction in reflux episodes. This is related to the breathing control techniques, strengthening of diaphragmatic muscles and overall relaxation that regular practice promotes.
12. Sleep patterns
Make sure that you don’t lie down for an hour after eating and avoid meals close to bedtime. Disrupted sleep patterns are linked to a range of digestive disturbances and have been correlated with increased symptoms in small studies.
Try out these small changes to your diet and lifestyle and see if you can ease your own discomfort from acid reflux!
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