On the Table

On the Table: Ways to relieve acid reflux

CorrespondentFebruary 5, 2013 

Get a grip on GERD.

Those of you who are affected know what I mean. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints.

It’s caused when stomach acid moves back up the esophagus – the pipe that your food goes down – instead of staying in your stomach where it belongs. The acid can irritate the lining of your esophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn or a sour taste in your mouth.

The acid reflux can even cause spasms in your esophagus painful enough to be mistaken for a heart attack.

Many people experience gastric reflux occasionally, especially after overeating or eating rich foods. If it happens regularly, it may be considered GERD. It’s important to relieve symptoms of GERD because chronic cases can cause ulcerations, narrowing of the esophagus or even increase your risk for esophageal cancer.

Get your doctor’s advice if you think you may have GERD. She may recommend over-the-counter antacids or prescription drugs that reduce or block acid production.

There’s plenty you can do to help yourself at home, too. For starters:

• Lose weight if you’re overweight. The pressure from extra pounds around the stomach can push acid up into your esophagus.

• Avoid overeating. If you’re too full and your stomach is distended, the sphincter that holds in the acid can become relaxed and allow acid to leak into the esophagus.

• Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Also avoid a heavy meal before bedtime.

• You can also try raising the head of your bed several inches to encourage acid to stay down rather than seeping upward into your esophagus.

• Avoid trouble foods. The culprits are different for different people.

Foods most likely to trigger heartburn include hard cheeses, meats, fried foods or other greasy foods, rich desserts such as cheesecake and ice cream, donuts or pastries and spicy foods.

Alcohol, chocolate, coffee (both decaf and regular), tomato juice and citrus juices, nuts, and even peppermint can also aggravate gastric reflux.

Experiment and see what works for you. Keep trying. If you can’t consistently get relief, see your health care provider.

You’re in good company, but hopefully not for long.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the Departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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