Acid reflux is incredibly common, but most people only get the awful “heartburn feeling” once in a while. For unlucky individuals that feel heartburn much more frequently, they might develop a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease.
In a nutshell, gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when you experience heartburn so frequently that your esophageal tissue lining starts to degrade or become inflamed. If you don’t take steps to alleviate these effects, you could experience even more severe symptoms.
But there’s good news! There are lots of ways to treat GERD and regular acid reflux through lifestyle changes and special diets. Let’s take a look at what you can do to treat GERD now.
GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease is progressive condition brought on by acid reflux disease, which occurs when stomach acid is regurgitated partly or fully up through the esophagus. A mild amount of acid reflux disease isn’t a big deal.
But when acid reflux occurs multiple times per week, you can develop GERD. This condition is characterized by acid reflux that occurs at least twice per week. Because stomach acid is regurgitated more frequently, the esophageal lining is further irritated and can become moderately or even severely damaged.
What Causes GERD?
As explained above, GERD develops when you experience frequent acid reflux. A healthy esophagus and digestive tract also has a healthy lower esophageal sphincter, which is a muscle at the bottom of the esophageal tract. Under normal circumstances, this sphincter relaxes to allow food and liquid into the stomach and closes again once the swallowing reflex completes.
Sometimes, however, the esophageal sphincter can become weakened or can be shaped abnormally. This occasionally allows stomach acid to flow into the esophagus. Since the esophagus isn’t designed to withstand that kind of acid exposure, it can become inflamed or damaged.
As for why the esophageal sphincter relaxes or weakens, there are several possible causes, including genetic factors, one’s diet, and whether one eats certain foods too frequently. Over 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once per month and 15 million adults have heartburn every day. This indicates that regular acid reflux is pretty common, although GERD is less so.
Major risk factors for GERD include:
- Hiatal hernias
- Connective tissue disorders
- Eating large meals or eating late in the evening
- Certain medications like aspirin
- Various inflammatory beverages like coffee and alcohol
- Leaky gut
- Emotional stress
Symptoms of GERD can be mild to severe depending on how frequently you experience them. Its major common symptoms include:
- Burning sensations in the chest, or heartburn. These usually occur after eating but might also be worse at night.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Chest pain aside from heartburn.
- Regurgitation of food or liquid.
- Chronic sore throat (a less common symptom of GERD).
- An uncomfortable feeling of a lump in your throat.
- Asthma symptoms.
- Disrupted sleep.
- Tooth erosion (since the acid wears down the enamel of your teeth).
- Chronic coughing.
How to Reduce GERD Symptoms
Luckily, there are multiple ways to fix GERD if you or someone you know experiences this condition regularly.
Manage Your Stress
The first thing you can do at home is take steps to manage your stress. Stress can weaken the esophageal sphincter mentioned above and lead to frequent heartburn, as well as other indigestion problems. Manage your stress by:
- Getting plenty of sleep each night.
- Avoiding stressful situations.
- Exercising regularly to burn off cortisol, the primary stress hormone.
- Maintain an upright position after eating.
- Eating a healthy diet.
Follow a GERD Diet
Speaking of dieting, you can also try to adopt a GERD or anti-inflammatory diet regimen. n general, an anti-inflammatory diet follows these major rules:
- Avoid dairy products like milk and cheese where possible.
- Avoid gluten, so try to eat gluten-free products.
- Avoid citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, and pepper.
- Avoid refined grain products, often found in many breads or pastas.
- Avoid spicy foods – this can seriously upset your stomach and lead to acid reflux.
- Try to cut down your caffeine intake from beverages like coffee or soda.
- Cut down on your chocolate and other sugar consumption. Too much of these things can lead to acid reflux and indigestion.
Avoid Unhealthy Habits
Similarly, do your best to avoid unhealthy habits, such as smoking, drinking excessively, or eating unhealthy foods all the time. You should definitely try to exercise to lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
Obese people are at a much higher risk of acid reflux and GERD than people who are at a healthy weight. You can practice high-intensity interval training or HIIT exercises to lose weight and build muscle efficiently, especially when combined with a diet that incorporates lean meat and cuts out unhealthy foods.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to lower your risk of heart disease, indigestion, and acid reflux. Once your acid reflux frequency goes down to once in a while, you’ll no longer have GERD and your esophageal tract will repair itself and stop being irritated or inflamed.
Medications & Complications
It’s true that certain medications can assist with GERD symptoms. However, some medications can also lead to other chronic diseases, including weight gain, kidney disease, stomach cancer, and even diabetes.
For this reason, we recommend speaking to a medical professional before taking medication directly for your GERD. They may be able to inform you about risk factors related to specific medication choices or give you alternative strategies.
In the end, GERD is more than a manageable condition that you can tackle by eliminating many of the risk factors or clauses of regular acid reflux. While none of the above solutions are one-size-fits-all perfect remedies, following each of the above strategies can do a lot to increase your overall bodily health and minimize the likelihood of you experiencing heartburn in the future.