In the Western world, about 4 to 10% of the adult population suffers from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms every day, and up to 30% have these disorders every week. Even more, over a third of Europe’s population suffers from some form of chronic digestive system disorder or illness.
These include, for example, hemorrhoids, acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease, intestinal irritation syndrome, Crohn’s disease, gluten intolerance or celiac disease, and heartburn.
Many other chronic conditions, including some caused primarily by a weak immune system, are also linked to poor functioning of the digestive system.
What are acid reflux, heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease? All three are characterized by symptoms such as chest pain and a burning sensation at night, which worsens and disturbs sleep at night, and the fact that eating some foods causes problems.
In this article you will find out all you need to know about the common medicines, food supplements, herbal teas and natural home remedies (including reflux diet) to treat acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
What is Reflux?
Reflux is the back-flow of stomach contents (which can be non-acidic or acidic) into the esophagus. It also causes a more serious problem – gastroesophageal reflux disease (also called simply reflux disease). Reflux of stomach contents creates a burning sensation in the chest or throat.
Most people assume that the symptoms of heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, are caused by highly acidic foods and excessive production of gastric juice.
But the opposite seems to be the case. Instead, the real culprits are the lack of gastric juice and poor digestion.
A healthier diet and other changes will not solve the problems overnight, but a consistent healthy lifestyle will quickly bring significant relief.
Because we are all different, it is important to find the most effective combination for the acid reflux and reflux disease remedies described below. Research on reflux disease does not only focus on medical treatment but also addresses lifestyle changes.
Some of the changes that could bring benefits include reflux diet, acupuncture, yoga, adequate exercise, weight loss and alternative therapies. Often you also need to change your sleep pattern and stress management methods.
Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Common symptoms of acid reflux (also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER)) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are:
- Chest pain and burning sensation
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Sleep disturbances, including waking up at night with feeling of choking or coughing
- Dry mouth
- Gingival irritation, including tenderness and bleeding
- Bad breath
- Gases, belching and bloating after meals
- Sometimes also nausea and loss of appetite
Also number of other symptoms, depending on how inflamed or damaged the esophagus is.
The symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease are similar with acid reflux but may be more severe. The cause of acid reflux is a malfunction of the lower esophageal closure.
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) acts like a lid on the stomach and prevents the stomach acid from getting back into the esophagus.
The stomach is lined with a special mucosa that can protect it from an acid attack, while the esophageal mucosa is more fragile. Therefore, untreated reflux can cause damage to the lining of the esophagus and complications over time. As a result, tissues can become scarred and, in more severe cases, even develop esophageal cancer.
Causes and Risk Factors of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
The causes of digestive disorders can be different, but usually the gastroesophageal reflux disease is caused by:
- Excessive rush to eat, without properly chewing or giving the stomach time to digest. This is probably the most common cause of occasional heartburn in our fast-paced society.
- Overeating, which strains the digestive system and puts pressure on the stomach.
- Eating a couple of times big meals a day, rather than distributing meals more evenly throughout the day.
- Older age that also affects gastric acid production.
- Hiatus hernia.
- Eating foods that irritate the digestive system, including pre prepared foods, sugary snacks, refined oils, fried foods, and processed meat products.
- Repeated administration of some prescription drugs such as antibiotics or medicines for hypertension, asthma, arthritis, heart or osteoporosis.
- Constant chronic stress.
- Deficiency of certain nutrients.
- Smoking and consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
Problems with The Standard Treatment for Reflux Disease
For heartburn and reflux, both prescription and over-the-counter medications are used to treat pain. In some cases they are taken only when the symptoms worsen, in other cases daily to prevent symptoms.
The three main classes of drugs used to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, are:
- H2RAs (histamine-2 receptor antagonists);
- PPIs (proton pump inhibitors).
Unfortunately, drugs for acid reflux and reflux disease have been found to promote symptoms such as indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anemia and fatigue. Prolonged inhibition of gastric acid formation, for example with proton pump inhibitors or antacids, is even associated with an increased risk of C. difficile infection.
This can cause serious problems such as diarrhea, inflammation of the bowel and bleeding ulcers. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned patients taking these medications that they should seek urgent medical attention in case these side effects do not resolve.
Elderly patients, some patients with chronic medical conditions and those taking broad-spectrum antibiotics are at greatest risk of developing adverse reactions to PPIs.
Home Remedies and Diet for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Almost all studies on acid reflux and reflux disease have found that one-sided and pre prepared foods are one of the causes of these problems. Pre prepared or also called convenience foods are easy to overeat and, as a result, conscious eating tends to be neglected.
Although people are different and everyone’s digestion responds in a different way, there are certain foods that seem to trigger the return of stomach contents. Be sure you first try to exclude these bad guys from your menu, but also:
- Prefer Organic GMO-free production as often as possible in order to maintain healthy digestion and be pain-free.
- Increase fiber intake.
- Support beneficial gut bacteria with probiotic foods and probiotic supplements.
- Reduce the proportion of cereals, and increase the quality of protein in your daily menu.
Such menu changes also reduce some risk factors, such as inflammation, obesity, and complications of severe chronic diseases.
1. Reflux Disease Diet and GAPS Diet
Driks and foods that help control stomach acid naturally and alleviate the symptoms of reflux
Drinks to drink:
- Kefir and yogurt help maintain the balance of beneficial bacteria in the stomach, promote digestion and soothe the digestive tract. Choose products that contain live cultures that have been fermented for 24 hours.
- Broth made from beef bones (cooked long time on low heat) helps to obtain essential compounds such as collagen, glutamine, proline and glycine.
- A tea mushroom or tea fungus called Kombucha drink is rich in beneficial bacteria and probiotics.
- Apple vinegar regulates the acidity of the stomach and reduces the symptoms of reflux disease. Mix a tablespoon of raw apple vinegar with a cup (about 240 ml) of water and drink five minutes before meals.
- Coconut water is rich in potassium and other electrolytes that help maintain the body’s fluid balance. Drinking coconut water throughout the day and one glass before bedtime helps prevent stomach contents from returning. You can even make kefir from coconut water, which provides healthy probiotics that reflux sufferers desperately need.
Foods to eat:
- Coconut fat is a great source of healthy fat and is also anti-inflammatory. Try to consume a tablespoon of coconut fat daily. You can, for example, spread it on a grain bread or add it to other foods. It contains lauric acid and other natural compounds to help with inflammation, boost immunity and kill Candida spp.
- Green leafy vegetables.
- Pumpkin and other pumpkin like vegetables.
- Wild caught tuna and salmon.
- Healthy fats including coconut fat and clarified butter.
- Cheese made from raw cow ‘s milk.
- Acidified and fermented foods including kimchi and sauerkraut.
Many of these foods are part of the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet), a diet plan recommended for indigestion that focuses on raw or under-processed organic produce. In addition to reflux disease, the GAPS diet can help with problems such as intestinal irritation syndrome, leaking salt, ATH, and many others.
The GAPS diet is rich in fresh organic vegetables, free range chicken and beef bone broth. It also includes healthy herbs and other herbs, such as aloe, parsley, ginger and fennel, to calm the digestive tract.
Foods and Drinks to avoid in case reflux disease
As mentioned briefly above, some foods are more likely to develop gastric reflux symptoms than others. The foods that are not suitable in case reflux disease are meat products, fast food, processed cheeses, chocolate, alcohol and caffeine.
Drinks to avoid:
- Alcohol. While for some, alcohol is not a problem when consumed occasionally and in small quantities, there are others for whom beer, liqueur and wine are the biggest problem makers. To test how your body reacts to alcohol, take a small amount at a time and drink plenty of water. It is better to avoid alcohol before going to bed and with foods that are known to trigger reflux symptoms.
- Caffeine. Coffee, tea and energy drinks can irritate the inflamed esophagus and affect the function of the sphincter muscle.
- Carbonated drinks. This includes soft drinks, alcohol, energy drinks, even mineral and aerated waters and others.
- Milk and dairy products. Not all dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, provoke a negative reaction, but for some these are not suitable. Dairy products contain calcium, sugar and usually fat, all of which can stimulate the stomach to produce more acid.
Foods to avoid:
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners. Both are common causes of inflammation and can lead to eating too fast, eating too much and gaining weight.
- Fried foods. Fatty foods tend to stay in the stomach for a long time and are difficult to digest. This can trigger overproduction of gastric acid.
- Pre prepared foods that contain huge amount of salt, corn and potato. This includes potato chips, cookies, breakfast cereals, etc. Many packaged products contain some form of processed maize, so you should read the ingredients on the label and try to pick the organic production. Another major problem with packaged products is the excessive salt content. A study in Sweden of more than 1,000 people found that people who consume more salt show suffer significantly more from acid reflux.
- Chocolate. In many cases, the withdrawal of cocoa and chocolate from the diet will alleviate the symptoms. Because many chocolate products contain processed fats, caffeine and sugar, and these are some of the more common roots of evil.
- Vegetable oils, including rapeseed oil. Many packaged snacks, fried and fatty foods contain processed oil and can trigger inflammation.
- Spicy food. Spices such as bitter peppers, chillies, cinnamon and pepper are generally considered to be very healthy. Unfortunately, spicy foods exacerbate the burning sensation associated with gastric reflux in some people with reflux disease. Because spices have different effects on everyone, so you need to experiment with their effects. As the symptoms worsen, it is wiser to prefer mild foods and use less spices.
- Tomatoes, preserved tomatoes and onions. While tomatoes and onions are generally healthy, they can induce a return of stomach contents in some, especially when consumed in larger quantities (for example, with plenty of tomato sauce).
- Citrus fruits and their juices. Citrus fruits contain quite a lot of acid and can exacerbate symptoms.
- Creamy and oil-rich salad dressings.
- Mint and peppermint. Mint-containing products appear to exacerbate symptoms by relieving pressure on the lower esophageal closure, which allows the acid to come up.
- Processed cereals.
2. Dietary Supplements for Reflux Disease
In addition to a healthy diet that helps relieve the symptoms associated with acid reflux and gastrooesophageal reflux disease, it is also important to take natural supplements.
- Digestive enzymes. This helps to properly digest the food and absorb the nutrients.
- Probiotics. Taking good bacteria helps balance the digestive tract and eliminates bad bacteria that can cause digestive problems, leaky gut and poor absorption of nutrients.
- Pepsin hydrochloride. Take one 650 mg pill before each meal. If necessary, you may take an additional dose to relieve the unpleasant symptoms.
- Magnesium. As mentioned above, magnesium deficiency can lead to disruption of the sphincter muscle, which in turn leads to reflux disease. Magnesium has been shown to be effective in the treatment of heartburn.
- L-glutamine. Take 5 grams of glutamine powder with food twice a day. Numerous studies have shown that it is beneficial in both leaking bowel and ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Melatonin. Take 6 mg every night. Studies show that those suffering from gastric reflux have significantly lower levels of melatonin than those who do not. Approximately 50% of those taking melatonin for 12 weeks had their symptoms of reflux disease alleviated or disappeared.
3. Herbal Teas for Reflux Disease
- Chamomile tea. Drink a cup of chamomile tea with honey before getting to bed. Chamomile tea helps to reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and supports its normal functioning.
- Ginger tea. Take a 2.5 cm long piece of fresh ginger and boil it for about 10 minutes in 300 ml of water. Sweeten with honey and drink after a meal or at bedtime. Ginger is used to support digestion worldwide. When fresh ginger is unavailable, a good quality nutritional supplement called ginger capsule will help to relieve the symptoms immediately.
- Papaya leaf. The papain enzyme in papaya enhances the digestion process by breaking down proteins. If fresh organic non-GMO papaya is not available, a good alternative is the organic papaya leaf tea. Eat a cup (about 240 ml) of fresh papaya as soon as symptoms of gastric reflux occur or drink a cup of tea at bedtime.
4. Essential Oils for Reflux Disease
Some patients get help from lemon or lemon essential oil, but not everyone responds the same way (some have problems with citrus fruits and citrus products, at least in the beginning).
Lemon juice can be added with a slice of fresh ginger to your daily drinking water. You can also try adding a few drops of lemon essential oil to your drinking water, or drip one drop of pure oil (internal use oils only) into your tongue, let it go through your mouth and swallow it.
5. Lifestyle Changes for Reflux Disease
Observe your eating habits
- Do not overeat – eat less at a time so that the food can be properly digested. Rich meals and overeating cause additional pressure on the sphincter muscle, which in turn can lead to the return of gastric juices and undigested food to the esophagus.
- Do not eat three hours before bedtime – allow the stomach to digest its last meal and drink herbal tea with honey to reduce irritation of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Chew your food thoroughly – most people do not tend to chew a meal properly – do not forget that digestion begins in the mouth. The smaller the food is before you swallow it, the easier it is for the stomach to digest it.
- Wear comfortable clothing after meals – avoid tight clothing and belts, especially during meals. These can make the symptoms and pain worse by putting pressure on the stomach.
Other lifestyle changes and tips
Treatment of acid reflux and reflux disease requires a comprehensive approach. All lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating, avoiding stomach backflow-inducing foods, and taking the right nutritional supplements can be beneficial. In addition, many can find relief in changes how and when to eat, how to rest, and how to workout.
Here are some tips on how to prevent stomach content returning by preventing its common triggers:
- Lie on your side so your head is higher. Try to set the head of the bed 10 to 15 cm higher, as lying completely flat can exacerbate the symptoms. Use the headrest lifting blocks, tables, etc., not just pillows, to adjust the base of the head higher. It is better than just piling up pillows under your head as the latter can cause neck problems. A higher place for head helps to keep gastric juices in the stomach and alleviates symptoms of gastrooesophageal reflux disease.
- Avoid bending over. Leaning forward to relieve pain is unlikely to help. On the contrary, leaning forward may aggravate the symptoms by compressing the stomach.
- Deal with stress. Stress aggravates the symptoms of reflux disease by increasing gastric juice production. So you should include relaxation techniques in your daily schedule. Consider yoga, meditation, art therapy, or any other technique that can help you effectively manage stress.
- Point massage. By affecting certain reflex points that are located below the chest thorax and are associated with digestion, the symptoms can be alleviated. Do not rely solely on medicines. As mentioned above, prescription drugs only relieve symptoms temporarily. Only menu and lifestyle changes bring long-term relief. If you find it necessary to take medications for pain, take them for the best results at bedtime.
- Exercise. Exercise should be moderate. Studies have shown that active sports and running can irritate the digestive tract and cause the stomach to flow back. Make sports at the first half of the day.
- Smoking. If you smoke, quit it as soon as possible. Smoking can relax the sphincter muscle, thereby facilitating the return of stomach contents. Passive smoking can also exacerbate symptoms.
Precautions in Reflux Treatment
The fact that reflux disease is so prevalent does not mean that it is normal. If the symptoms of reflux disease prevent you from following your normal lifestyle or interfering with your daily life, affect your appetite or nutrient intake and have persisted for more than two weeks, you should see your doctor.
You should also consult your doctor about treatment options if:
- your voice becomes hoarse;
- asthma worsens after meals;
- you feel constant pain when lying down;
- pain occurs after exercise;
- difficulty breathing, mainly at night;
- diarrhea or difficulty swallowing, which lasts for more than a few days.
Reflux Diet – 6 Key Points
- A healthier diet
- Avoiding problematic foods
- Achieving a healthier weight. Try detoxing!
- Taking useful and natural supplements by like probiotics, magnesium and digestive enzymes
- Eating less at once and having a balanced menu
- Making small changes in lifestyle and sleeping habits
Compiled and edited by Maria-Helena Loik
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