When life gives you lemons, you’re supposed to make lemonade, as the saying goes. But when the lemons are creating a burning sensation in your chest and stomach and an acid taste in your mouth, lemonade sounds absolutely unappetizing (as do the lemons.)
Scientists estimate that more than 15 million Americans suffer from acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. This is a condition in which acid from the stomach travels up into the esophagus, leading to discomfort, inflammation, and even scarring (and it can hurt like a mother.) Acid reflux can also cause chronic coughing and burping, nausea, difficulty swallowing, laryngitis and feeling bloating. In other words, you are the ideal party guest!
But the real damage from reflux happens over time as all that regurgitated stomach acid erodes away at your esophagus and even the enamel on your teeth (similar to what happens to someone with a history of bulimia.)
There’s no perfect cure for acid reflux, but there are certain dietary and lifestyle changes that can have a major impact. It may mean giving up some of your favorite foods, but ultimately it is worth the sacrifice. Rebecca Lewis, dietician for HelloFresh, explains a few key foods you want to stay away from because they irritate the the LES (lower esophageal sphincter.):
High Acid Foods (tomatoes, citrus, coffee): Because these kinds of foods are already high in acid, they can cause irritation of the LES leading to indigestion and acid reflux.
Spicy Foods (tomatoes, citrus, chili peppers): As our bodies reject these spicy foods, foods may be moved too quickly through our digestive systems causing additional irritation.
Caffeine. Really any beverages that contain caffeine (coffee, soda, tea) can trigger reflux because of their high acid content that causes those LES muscles to relax, thus bringing up more acid through the esophagus. But you don’t have to go totally cold turkey on your caffeine fix. It’s all about moderation. One small coffee or one soda per day is the best way to go.
If you are trying to soothe an already irritated digestive tract Lewis suggests alcohol or mint as both have the ability to relax the muscles of the GI tract, and can soothe an irritated stomach.
To actively fight acid reflux Lewis suggests:
Ginger: Ginger helps reduce inflammation and nausea. It also has a warming effect when eaten, which heats up the inside of our bodies to aid in fat breakdown
Aloe vera: This trendy food helps to soothe the mucus membranes in our digestive tract and revitalizes the LES by helping the proper functioning of our digestive enzymes.
Parsley: Parsley helps to settle the stomach and aid in digestion. Bonus: it also helps fight bad breath (which often occurs with acid reflux and GERD!).
As for what you can physically do to help alleviate your Acid Reflux, Lewis says you need to let gravity work on your side. If you are upright, food will flow downwards into the stomach. However, if you are lying flat, and the sphincter is loose in your esophagus then food and stomach acids can leak back out and cause backflow. She suggests the following:
1. Remain upright for at least 30 minutes after consuming a meal, keeping your head elevated You should never lie down flat after eating!
2. Avoid sleeping for 2-3 hours after eating a meal in order to finish the digestion process and let foods fully empty out of the stomach and into the small intestines.
3. When sleeping, don’t lie on your back and don’t lie on your right side (both of these sleep positions cause relaxation of the esophageal sphincter. The best position is to lie on your left side.