home remedies for acid reflux

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a very common condition involving the digestive system that may affect up to 20 percent of the North American population. Medications are available to treat this condition, but what are some home remedies that can be used for acid reflux?

What causes acid reflux?

Acid reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach bypass the esophageal sphincter and ‘reflux’ into the esophagus, mouth, or respiratory system.  Since the contents of the stomach are highly acidic due to the low pH of the stomach acid, this often results in a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. 

Symptoms of GERD may include heartburn, which is a burning sensation in the chest, sour or bitter taste in the mouth, stomach pain, nausea, and bloating.  Someone is more likely to experience heartburn within a few hours after eating or when lying down.

Since acid reflux affects other body systems, it could potentially result in oral health issues or respiratory system issues if stomach acid gets into those areas.  A 2011 review that surveyed almost 15,000  GERD patients found that frequent heartburn was associated with a lower health-related quality of life – for both physical and mental health.  Mitigating these symptoms could help reduce the discomfort, potential side effects, and complications associated with GERD. 

Treating acid reflux

There are many potential treatments for acid reflux.  Medical treatments for GERD may include medications such as antacids, histamine-receptor antagonists, and proton-pump inhibitors.  There are also options for surgical therapy if other treatments fail; one example is a procedure called a laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery.  However, many people prefer to try implementing lifestyle changes prior to seeking out these treatment options; here we will describe some common home remedies for acid reflux.

Avoid triggers

One of the most commonly listed home remedies for acid reflux is avoiding certain trigger foods.  Some people with GERD find that high-fat meals, spicy foods, acidic foods, chocolate, coffee, or alcohol may exacerbate their symptoms. These triggers may be different for everyone, and scientific evidence supporting whether it works or not is inconclusive. 

Avoid putting pressure on your stomach

Another well-known method of prevention is minimizing pressure on the stomach.  This can be done by wearing looser, comfortable clothing or eating more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day instead of eating fewer large ones. The effectiveness of this has not been proven, but reducing pressure on the stomach may help lessen discomfort.. 

Don’t lie down right after eating

Avoiding lying down after eating could potentially help with minimizing GERD symptoms. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney issues recommends waiting at least three hours after eating to lie down. 

One study found that a shorter dinner-to-bedtime interval was associated with GERD flare-ups, so this could be a strategy worth trying. Elevating the head at a height of between six and eight inches when sleeping could also be helpful as it reduces the risk of stomach acid backflow up through the esophagus. 

Maintain a healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight could potentially reduce the severity of acid reflux symptoms. One review of 16 different studies found that the only confirmed effective lifestyle strategies for improving GERD symptoms were head elevation during sleep and weight loss for overweight individuals.  Another population-level study found that there may be a relationship between increasing body mass index (BMI) and increased prevalence of GERD.

The two main home remedies for acid reflux that are supported by research are maintaining a healthy weight and elevating the head during sleep.  Other strategies, including avoiding trigger foods and reducing pressure on the stomach, could be helpful to some people on an individual basis.  More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of these home remedies as well as investigate other potential options.

References:

Badillo, R., Francis, D. (2014). Diagnosis and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease. World J Gastrointest Pharmacol Ther 5(3): 105-112. Doi: 10.4292/wjgpt.v5.i3.105

Becher, A., El-Serag, H. (2011). Systematic review: the association between symptomatic response to proton pump inhibitors and health-related quality of life in patients with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Ailment Pharmacol Ther 34(6): 618-627. Doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2011.04774.x

Corley, D.A., Kubo, A. (2006). Body mass index and gastroesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol 101(11): 2619-2628. Doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2006.00849.x

Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for GER & GERD. 2020 July. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Health Information Center: National Institutes of Health. Accessed 2021 January 27, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/eating-diet-nutrition

Jarosz, M., Taraszewska, A. (2014). RIsk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease: the role of diet. Prz Gastroenterol 9(5): 297-301. Doi: 10.5114/pg.2014.46166

Kaltenbach, T., Crockett, S., Gerson, L.B. (2006). Arch Intern Med 166(9): 965-971. Doi: 10.1001/archinte.166.9.965

Yang, J.H., Kang, H.S., Lee, S., et al. (2014). Recurrence of gastroesophageal reflux disease correlated with a short dinner-to-bedtime interval. J Gastroenterol Hepatol 29(4): 730-735. Doi: 10.1111/jgh.12455

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