If you are one of the estimated 20% of Americans who experience symptoms of regurgitation of gastric acid or sour contents in the mouth, difficult or painful swallowing, chest pain, a chronic cough, bad breath or a feeling like something is stuck in your throat that occurs more than twice a week, there is a good chance it is more than just heartburn. It is likely to be a more serious form of heartburn called gastroesophageal reflux disease or simply known as GERD.
Both heartburn and GERD are caused by stomach acid refluxing up into the esophagus which can cause damage to the surface lining of the esophagus since it is not protected by mucus. GERD is caused by a weak lower esophageal sphincter or one that relaxes when it shouldn’t. This sphincter, a ring of muscle, ordinarily acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach, opening to let through the food and liquids you swallow.
Signs of GERD should not be ignored since if left untreated, it can lead to serious complications. Damage to the esophagus can scar and narrow it, making swallowing difficult, and the inflammation can cause bleeding or ulcers. GERD can also be a precursor to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus which in can lead to esophageal cancer.
Even though there are certain medications, both over-the-counter and prescription that can be used to treat GERD, recent studies have shown that long-term use of medications for heartburn and GERD can block absorption of essential nutrients and increase bone-fracture risk. Both the mineral calcium and vitamin B12 have been found to have reduced absorption when using such drugs. Other nutrients whose absorption that might be reduced by such medications include folate, beta-carotene, vitamin C, magnesium, iron and zinc.
How to fight GERD naturally
Dealing with the downside of GERD is no fun and yet taking medications for it long-term appears to have some negative nutritional consequences. Therefore, it makes sense to try dietary and lifestyle modifications to fight both heartburn and GERD. Here are some natural steps one can try to help control the symptoms associated with this condition:
·Certain foods can lower the sphincter pressure between the stomach and esophagus making it easier for acid to reflux back up – these foods include high-fat foods, alcohol, peppermint, onions, carbonated beverages and chocolate.
·Other foods may stimulate the already irritated nerve endings in the lining of the esophagus and may need to be avoided such as citrus and spicy dishes
·Common beverages such as coffee (both caffeinated and decaffeinated), tea, cola, tomato juice, and orange juice may also aggravate symptoms
·Eat more frequent, lighter meals and snacks. Large quantities of food make it more challenging taking time to be digested.
·Lose weight. Cutting calories from unhealthy sources such as starches and added sugars can reduce the risk of GERD.
·Chew gum after meals to stimulate saliva production. Saliva contains compounds that help neutralize stomach acids and increase peristalsis, the process that moves contents from the stomach to the small intestine. Be sure to choose a flavor other than peppermint.
·Drink a small glass of water after meals. This can help dilute and wash down any refluxing stomach acids.
·Avoid carbonated beverages, especially with meals. Carbonation can bloat the abdomen, pressing on the stomach and pushing stomach acids upward.
·Eat more fiber rich foods. One study found that people whose diets were high in fiber were less likely to have heartburn and GERD symptoms.
·Wait to lie down after a meal for at least three hours. This is when acid production is at its peak. Plan dinner meals earlier in the evening and avoid bedtime snacks.
·When you do lie down, try keeping stomach acids in their place by raising the head of your bed six to eight inches. Using extra pillows under your head won’t work. There are special foam wedges sold in bedding stores and through medical supply houses that can be used to do the trick.
·Smokers should extinguish their habit. The chemicals in cigarette smoke may relax the esophageal sphincter and allow reflux of digestive acids.
·Avoid tight-fitting waistbands and clothes that squeeze your middle.