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 and symptoms of heartburn, 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 esophageal 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 esophagus, causing heartburn, regurgitation, nausea, and sometimes, trouble swallowing.
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 fetus. 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.
What to take for acid reflux in adults
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 you're experiencing harsh symptoms, like a searing, hot sensation in the chest.
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.
Home remedies for acidity and gas problem
Most nutritional research is based on looking at diet, lifestyle and symptom correlation, rather than identifying which foods may actually cause acid reflux. If you've been suffering long-term and have severe symptoms, please see your healthcare professional to rule out other issues. Here are practical tips you can try at home to prevent and relieve the symptoms of heartburn, GERD and acid reflux and a few tips on what foods to avoid and what foods to eat to help the issues:
1. Avoid carminative herbs and teas
Herbal teas like mint and chamomile are usually seen as healing and soothing options for digestive discomfort, but they may actually cause the LES to relax. This can actually worsen the uncomfortable symptoms. Instead, opt for turmeric or ginger tea – one of the best foods to include in your diet to relieve the discomfort of acid reflux.
2. Elevate the head of your bed
For night-time sufferers, this is a well-known tip to ease acid reflux, gas and bloating. 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 and heartburn 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 a nutritionist if you're seeking their help and support.
4. Reduce caffeine and spicy foods
Citrus, tomatoes and onions are common trigger foods for many and should be avoided by 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 acid reflux, bloating, heartburn and flatulence worse. Nicotine in particular, may weaken the LES muscle.
6. Try aloe vera juice or a supplement
It's been said that aloe vera can help soothe and calm esophageal irritation. Look for products that have been specifically created as safe for internal use, or a supplement that combines aloe vera with slippery elm, liquorice or marshmallow, which may help to support healing of the lining of the esophagus. It’s best if you seek advice and guidance on supplements which may help from a qualified practitioner who can help address any underlying causes and make sure these are safe.
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 a longer amount of time. 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, heartburn and bloating.
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 problematic 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. Focus on sitting down to a meal rather than grabbing bites on the run, eating mindfully and really tasting and chewing your food.
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.
13. Address your stress
Even if chronic stress is not the underlying cause of heartburn and acid reflux, studies have shown that people under a lot of psychological stress tend to suffer from more severe symptoms, and stress seems to be a common trigger for many (1). Your gut has a whole mesh-like system of neurons (nerve cells) which govern the function of the GI tract, and we know that there is a huge connection between the mind, emotions, digestion and your overall gut health. Getting out for a walk in nature, doing some gentle exercise, or using an app like Headspace to do a few minutes of guided meditation may help you lower stress levels.
14. Try to avoid eating till you’re bursting and over-stuffed
Over-eating can obviously increase pressure on the stomach and can therefore worsen acid-reflux. If you are still suffering with a feeling of being 'stuffed' a couple of hours after eating, there are a couple of gentle, yoga-inspired poses that you can try which may help release trapped gas and relieve bloating. Try sitting comfortably on the floor and twisting from your waist, coming into a gentle child’s pose, or lying on your back and softly hugging your knees into your chest. If this triggers acid reflux or makes you feel sick, stop and just do some deep breaths, which can help relax the bowels. Make sure to avoid any inversions and poses that involve moving your head under the stomach area.
Acid reflux in babies and children
When a baby or child has gastro-oesophageal reflux, the food and drink travel down the food pipe as normal. However, some of the mixture of food, drink and acid travels back up the food pipe, instead of passing through to the large and small intestines. As the food and drink are mixed with acid from the stomach, it can irritate the lining of the food pipe, making it sore for the little one.
In some children, the symptoms associated with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease disappear with or without treatment, usually by the age of two. However, in some children, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is more of a long-term condition that can affect both the child and family’s quality of life.
The options for treating gastro-oesophageal reflux disease are improving all the time, with new medicines and surgical options being discovered alongside a better understanding of why a child develops gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (2). Consult your Pediatrician immediately if you are concerned about your child's symptoms.
Should I see a doctor for acid reflux
Though it's uncomfortable in the throat specifically, acid reflux is very treatable. Severe symptoms may require the use of medication, or in very rare cases, surgery.
If an individual has severe or frequent symptoms of acid reflux, they should visit their doctor to rule out other conditions. The doctor may want to examine the food pipe to see if more serious damage to the tissue has occurred.
If you experience regular chest pain, shortness of breath, jaw pain or right arm pain, these could be signs of more serious health issues so seek the help of your doctor as soon as possible.
Acid reflux and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS often accompanies GERD, suggesting that the two conditions may share common disease mechanisms, though not well understood.
One mechanism may be poor muscle function of the intestinal tract. Some experts suspect there may be an incoordination of the muscles that line the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, contributing to symptoms of both IBS and acid reflux. Also, it's been recorded that people who have both IBS and acid reflux have sleep issues and abdominal pain when laying in bed.
Although IBS is a complicated condition and less well-understood than GERD, it's safe to say that there are a variety of factors that contribute to either issue such as environmental and hereditary personal attributes.
Take charge today and try out these practical and natural home remedies to see if you can ease your own discomfort from acid reflux, heartburn, gas and bloating – you won't be sorry!
To save these helpful tips, Pin This!
1. National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/
2. GOSHC: https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-we-treat/gastro-oesophageal-reflux