If you have acid reflux, try these lifestyle tips to help reduce symptoms
Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when the stomach’s contents, along with the stomach acid that helps digest food, seeps back up into your esophagus. Symptoms of acid reflex can include difficulty swallowing, an unpleasant taste, chest pain, and a burning sensation. If left untreated, there’s a chance, though rare, that it may lead to esophageal cancer.
To help reduce your risk of acid reflux, you should try to limit trigger foods and adopt some simple lifestyle habits, says Kristian Morey, RD, a registered dietitian at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. It’s worth noting that although eliminating specific foods from your diet can help alleviate symptoms, the true cause of acid reflux is a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (LES). However, once you have reflux, certain foods can worsen symptoms, usually because they are acidic or have a relaxing effect on the LES (or are otherwise irritating to the lining of the esophagus). Follow Morey’s tips to help combat the symptoms of acid reflux.
Foods to Cut Down On—or Eliminate Entirely
“It’s a good idea to keep a food diary to monitor symptoms and see what foods, beverages, or activities may be triggering your reflux,” and note which, if eliminated, seem to provide relief, says Morey. Here are some common triggers:
- Spicy food
- Citrus fruits
- Fatty or fried foods
- Raw garlic or onions
- Tomato-based foods (pizza and pasta sauce, chili)
Lifestyle Changes Can Help
In addition to making changes to your diet, you can also try some lifestyle adjustments, which research—as well as plenty of anecdotal evidence—shows may help you avoid that burning sensation.
- Quit smoking: Smoking tends to relax the LES, plus it may induce coughing, both of which prompt acid reflux. Additionally, smoking reduces how much saliva you produce, and saliva helps to neutralize acid that backs up. In this case, the research is clear: Those who suffer from GERD and have quit smoking (and stuck with it) often see great improvement in their symptoms.
- Get and stay at a healthy weight: If you’re overweight, you may be at a higher risk of GERD, either thanks to a high-fat diet or because the weight itself puts pressure on your esophagus. Even modest weight loss can improve symptoms.
- Check your meds: “Talk to your doctor about any medications or supplements you are currently taking, as some may increase your risk of reflux,” says Morey. You should also ask about medications to reduce symptoms, she adds.
- Avoid overeating: Instead of having big meals, try consuming several smaller meals and snacks throughout the day; this can help you digest more readily and avoid reflux.
- Stay upright: Don’t collapse on the couch or, worse, head to bed too soon after eating. Try experimenting with the timing of your evening meal so that you have a few hours before you retire for the night to give gravity a chance to help you digest. For the same reason, you may find relief by raising the head of your bed 6 to 9 inches. But note: Do this with a firm foam wedge under the mattress or a block of wood that props up the legs of the bed. Sleeping on extra pillows may make things worse by squeezing your abdomen unnaturally.