Acid reflux is a sign that the digestive system is not operating smoothly. Instead of gastric contents passing from the stomach into the small intestine as they should, food and stomach acid can regurgitate, or reflux, into the esophagus.
Symptoms of acid reflux
Acid reflux commonly causes burning in the chest, which we colloquially call heartburn. But reflux can also present as chest pain, food regurgitation, bitter taste, chronic cough, asthma, throat clearing, hoarseness, globus sensation, belching, and trouble swallowing. But other health conditions may mimic reflux symptoms, so it’s a good idea to inform your physician of your symptoms so that you receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
If you experience reflux regularly, it might be classified as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Long-term effects of reflux
Whereas occasional reflux may resolve on its own without lasting effects, GERD negatively impacts quality of life, requires treatment, and is associated with increased risks of other health concerns. Those with GERD have an increased risk of painful conditions that can lead to permanent damage to the esophagus, as well as an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
GERD usually responds well to treatment with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which reduce stomach acidity. However, long-term PPI use is associated with an increased risk of bone fracture, renal disease, pneumonia, and nutrient deficiency.
Causes of reflux
The food we eat and how we eat it play a role in reflux. Irregular mealtimes, large portion sizes, and eating before bed are associated with GERD symptoms. Acidic foods like tomato, orange, grapefruit; coffee and tea, foods that are spicy, fatty, or fried; carbonated beverages, and chocolate can trigger GERD.
Lifestyle patterns also impact reflux. Tobacco smoking is a contributing factor in GERD. Smoking also reduces the production of saliva, which helps protect the esophageal mucous membrane from acid. Alcohol consumption can trigger reflux episodes and aggravate acid-related esophageal injury.
Other lifestyle factors that contribute to GERD include obesity, vigorous exercise, exercise right after a meal, or lack of regular exercise.
Diet and lifestyle
The positive thing about the correlation between reflux, diet, and lifestyle is that we have the power to do something about it! Making diet and lifestyle changes now can help manage reflux in the long-term.
Embrace regular mealtimes and be mindful that you don’t make a habit of overeating. Minimizing acidic, spicy, and fried foods in the diet can also reduce reflux episodes.
Schedule moderate-intensity exercise a good distance away from mealtimes and bedtime. For sleep, lie on your left side and raise the head of the bed to reduce nighttime reflux.
Always ask your health care practitioner before trying a new supplement.
- Probiotics may improve heartburn and reflux in GERD.
- Turmeric may be helpful in reducing mucosal damage from reflux.
- Digestive enzymes may promote more efficient and complete digestion.
BetsyHealth Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before trying a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing, take prescription or over-the-counter medications, or are planning on having surgery.
By Dr. Cassie Irwin, ND
Article copyright 2024 by Alive Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Photo by Vladislav Shurgin: