Diet, Lifestyle and Natural Treatments
Lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise and other non-medicinal options are great ways to spell R-E-L-I-E-F from chronic heartburn or acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), symptoms as well as taking medications and over-the-counter solutions.
Heartburn and acid reflux/GERD occur when the esophageal sphincter, the muscle found at the bottom of your esophagus, relaxes abnormally or weakens. This can allow stomach acid to flow back up your esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) works as a valve, opening to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach and closing to keep acid and food from flowing back up the esophagus.
Certain foods can trigger heartburn symptoms because they lessen the effectiveness of the LES, thereby allowing acid to flow back into your esophagus. Different foods can trigger heartburn and acid reflux in different people, but there are some common foods known to cause these conditions:
- Soft drinks
- Fried foods
- High-fat meats
- Fats, oils and sweets
- Acidic fruits, vegetables and juices
- Spicy foods
A diet of a variety of fruits and vegetables high in fiber may decrease the symptoms caused by heartburn and acid reflux/GERD.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to quit smoking. The cessation of smoking can go a long way in treating and preventing flare-ups from heartburn and acid reflux. The tobacco found in cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chew and snuff can cause and aggravate heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. The nicotine in tobacco products can weaken and relax the LES. Nicotine can also increase acid production in your stomach.
You may also want to consider losing weight and adding exercise to your daily activities. While some exercises can irritate existing symptoms, the benefit from weight loss on your heartburn symptoms is worth the effort.
It may sound far-fetched, but in a small study from the Journal of Dental Research, people with GERD symptoms experienced relief when they chewed a piece of sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after a meal.