t’s nighttime, and you are ready to relax and lay down in bed when a familiar sensation comes crawling up your throat.
The symptoms of acid reflux can include heartburn, throat burning, cough, chest pain, change of voice, and stomach pain. There may even be regurgitation when lying flat or bending over.
The cause of acid reflux is rarely too much acid production, yet it is commonly treated with antacids. While this might work for a quick fix, the consequences of taking antacid medications long-term include vitamin and mineral deficiencies, bacterial imbalances due to pH imbalances, and poor digestion. Stomach acid is an essential part of breaking down our food and maintaining pH in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Without proper stomach acid, overall health can suffer.
The stomach sits in the abdomen, and there are two anatomical openings on the stomach, the lower esophageal sphincter and the pylorus. The pressure gradient in the stomach across these two openings can open the lower esophageal sphincter exposing the lower esophagus to the acid and food contents your body is trying to digest.
As mentioned in Part 1, carrying excess weight, especially around the middle, increases the abdomen’s pressure and opens the lower esophageal sphincter. Even modest amounts of weight loss of about 5-15 pounds can be your number one ally in stopping acid reflux symptoms.
If you don’t have any extra weight to lose and still have acid reflux, it could be related to food and eating patterns. Protein and fat take longer to digest and remain in the stomach for up to 4 hours in some individuals. If you are prone to acid reflux, be mindful of how much protein and fat you consume with meals (aka “rich meals”). Fatty meats and fried food are the slowest to digest and empty from your stomach. Digestion starts in the mouth, where both teeth and enzymes break down food, so make sure to eat slowly and chew thoroughly.
Reducing reflux can also be achieved by eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. It will allow your stomach to empty of foods and extra liquids and relieve some pressure. Try putting an extra pillow under your head at night to elevate your head to avoid the contents of your stomach placing additional stress on your lower esophageal sphincter.
Certain foods have been shown to relax the lower esophageal sphincter and possibly contribute to reflux. These include mint, chocolate, alcohol, nicotine, hot spices, caffeine, carbonated beverages, citrus, nitrates on cured meats, and certain medications that relax smooth muscle. It is important to remember there is no one size fits all treatment for reflux – what works for one person may not work for another.
Certain foods may help ease symptoms. These include yogurt, high fiber foods, broth, ginger tea, and lemon water. No food or drink can cure reflux, but including more of these items in your diet may help manage reflux.
There is even a possibility that the stomach is not making enough stomach acid to break down food for digestion. To increase stomach acid production, eating at regular mealtimes while seated and not distracted sends the signals of biology to your nervous system that you are in feeding mode.
- Eat in an upright position
- Eat slowly and chew well
- Discover what foods trigger symptoms and remove them whenever possible – they are different for everyone.
- Avoid overeating and overfilling the stomach pouch
- Eat at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to allow for digestion
- If able, lose a modest amount of weight to relieve pressure
- Sleep with the head of the bed elevated slightly