What is Gastroesophageal reflux disease – GERD?
GERD, or chronic acid reflux, is a condition in which stomach acid frequently backs up into the esophagus. GERD is characterized by a weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a bit of muscle between the esophagus and stomach that opens to allow food through to the stomach but otherwise remains closed to protect the esophagus from stomach acid. (1)
The most common symptoms of GERD are frequent acid reflux and heartburn. Other symptoms may include regurgitation of food or sour liquid, difficulty swallowing, coughing, wheezing, water brashing, and chest pain.
What is the cause of GERD?
GERD is believed to be caused by many different things. It has been suggested that certain foods and beverages may contribute to developing GERD. Smoking also appears to play a role in the development of GERD by impairing the function of the LES. In addition, some women find pregnancy can exacerbate symptoms as the growing baby puts pressure on the stomach and pushes acid upward into the esophagus.
What are some strategies for the prevention of GERD?
1. Eat smaller meals
When the stomach is very full, it can put pressure on the LES, resulting in more acid reflux and heartburn. You may want to try eating smaller meals more frequently rather than three large meals daily and slow down the pace–no prize for the finish line! And try not to eat within 3 hours of bedtime
2. Avoid triggering foods
As mentioned earlier, there are certain foods and beverages that are more likely to trigger GERD symptoms. You may want to avoid or limit these foods and drinks if they make your heartburn symptoms worse:
- fatty or fried foods
- spicy foods
- tomatoes/tomato sauce
3. Quit Smoking
Smoking weakens the LES over time, making it more likely for acid to move up into the esophagus.
4. Lose weight to relieve GERD
While it’s important to note that weight in and of itself is not an adequate marker of health, extra weight, especially around your abdomen, can put pressure on your stomach and contribute to GERD symptoms.
5. Wear loose-fitting clothes
Tight clothing, especially around your waist, can press on your stomach and make reflux more likely.
6. Use care when taking NSAIDs
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin can trigger or worsen acid reflux symptoms by irritating the lining of the esophagus and delaying stomach emptying. If you need to take these medications frequently, talk to your doctor about alternatives.
7. Reducing stress
Chronic stress can contribute to the development of GERD by weakening the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Stress may also lead to other habits that can trigger or worsen symptoms, such as smoking and drinking alcohol. If you’re struggling with stress, there are several ways to manage it. Exercise, meditation, and relaxation techniques may all help reduce stress levels.
8. Digestive health
Consuming adequate amounts of fiber each day can improve digestive health and help with acid reflux and heartburn symptoms. 25-35 grams per day is a great amount of fiber to shoot for but make sure to increase fiber slowly to avoid digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea.
9. Limit caffeine
Caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soda can make GERD worse because they increase stomach acid production. Consider reducing caffeine consumption or switching to decaf versions of your favorite drinks.
10. Limit alcohol
Alcohol can relax the lower esophageal sphincter and allow stomach acid to leak back up into the esophagus. This can cause heartburn and acid reflux symptoms.
11. Avoid eating close to bedtime
Give yourself at least 3 hours to digest before lying down or going to bed. This gives your stomach time to empty so that acid doesn’t leak back up into your esophagus.
12. Eating late at night
Wait at least three hours after eating before lying down or going to bed. Sitting upright gives your stomach time to empty so that acid doesn’t leak back up into your esophagus.
13. Avoid lying down after eating
If you can’t avoid laying down, prop yourself up with pillows or sit in a recliner chair. Laying at an incline will help keep acid down while you sleep.
14. Raise the head of your bed
Gravity helps keep acid down while you sleep. You can use wooden blocks or a foam wedge to raise the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches. Or put a pillow under your mattress at the head of the bed. Just be sure to use something that will hold its shape and not collapse over time.
How is GERD treated?
GERD is typically treated with lifestyle changes, as mentioned above. Medications can also be used to treat the condition and may include over-the-counter options such as antacids or prescription medications like Histamine-2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors. (3) However, these are only to be used short-term (less than 12 weeks) which is why lifestyle and dietary changes are key for healing the esophageal and stomach linings and achieving long-term symptom management.
A Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) can help guide you through making the most effective lifestyle changes and recommend a nutrition plan and supplements that can help keep acid reflux and heartburn symptoms at bay. Click below to schedule a free consultation to discuss your goals for your health!
- “Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Adults | NIDDK.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults. Accessed 4 July 2022.
- Stomach: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia Image. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/19223.htm. Accessed 4 July 2022.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease | Nutrition Guide for Clinicians. https://nutritionguide.pcrm.org/nutritionguide/view/Nutrition_Guide_for_Clinicians/1342015/all/Gastroesophageal_Reflux_Disease?refer=true. Accessed 4 July 2022.