5 ways to treat acid reflux—naturally
The next time you’re spending a quiet night in front of the TV, count the number of commercials you see for acid reflux cures. Ads for antacids and acid reducers bombard the airwaves, testifying to the estimates by the American College of Gastroenterology reporting that more than 60 million people in the U.S. have a case of heartburn at least once a month, also called acid reflux.
The chronic condition, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can be mild to serious, affect old and young, and is not necessarily linked to the foods you eat. But left unchecked, the acid can burn the inside of your esophagus, which is the muscular tube leading from your throat down to your stomach. This can cause difficulty swallowing, bleeding, ulcers and even changes to the lining of your esophagus, a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. These conditions, in turn, can raise your risk of esophageal cancer.
So what can you do to sooth the burn before too much damage is done? Dr. Arun Ohri, gastroenterologist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, suggests five simple changes that can prevent many people with mild GERD:
1. Shed some pounds
If your pants have gotten a little too tight, losing as little as 10 pounds can often help. Studies have shown that the higher a person’s body mass index — a measure that determines body fat, the more severe the GERD. Or pull out your not-so-skinny jeans. Pants that are too tight can cause pressure on the digestive system, triggering the release of extra acid in your stomach.
2. Pop a stick of gum
Chewing a stick of gum increases your saliva production, which some research suggests can reduce acid levels in the esophagus. In a study published in the May 2003 issue of Digestive Disease Week, researchers found that people with GERD who chewed gum for 30 minutes after a meal, had lower acid levels following the meal compared to when they didn’t chew gum.
3. Watch your portion size
Stick to smaller meals eaten more frequently. Dr. Ohri says big meals can overwhelm the lower sphincter. This is a flap of muscles at the base of your esophagus leading into the stomach. When food enters the stomach, it’s supposed to close, preventing acid from rising back into the esophagus. But a big meal can cause acid to overflow. Smaller meals mean less acid.
4. Sleep on your side
Many people experience acid reflux at night. Research shows that people who sleep on their stomachs are most likely to have problems, since lying on your stomach causes additional pressure. In fact, a research team at Stanford University found that sleeping on your left side is more beneficial than sleeping on your right side.
5. Listen to your mother, and stand up straight
Something as simple as straightening your stance and not lying down or reclining for two hours after meals can help, Dr. Ohri says. Remaining upright helps keep the acid at the bottom of the stomach, where it will do the most digestive good.
“And poor health habits like smoking and excessive drinking also contribute to GERD,” Dr. Ohri says. “So live as healthy a lifestyle as you can.”
If you try these simple solutions and still have problems, make an appointment with your doctor or a gastroenterologist. New, minimally invasive treatments, such as fundoplication to strengthen the lower sphincter or Halo ablation for Barrett’s esophagus, can help relieve the damage and protect you from further complications down the road.
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About the Author
Tim Nelson, health enews contributing editor, is public affairs manager at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. He has more than 20 years of communications and journalism experience, creating health care publications, initiating communications strategies and engaging in all areas of social media. Tim earned his degree in journalism from Marquette University. In his free time, he is a certified Laughter Yoga leader, a movie fanatic, an avid reader and spoiler of his dog, Indigo.