What to Eat—and What to Avoid—If You Struggle With Acid Reflux, Heartburn, or Indigestion

Diet and lifestyle solutions for heartburn and acid reflux: bowl of shallots
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Not only is acid reflux one of the most common health conditions, it has been on the rise for several decades. If you've ever experienced that ominous burning sensation in your chest, we know you want answers about what to do about it. Before delving into the how, why, and what of treatment, it is important to be clear what we mean by "acid reflux" as opposed to heartburn, indigestion, and GERD. The terms are related but often related.
A brief breakdown ...
"Heartburn is a burning sensation in your upper chest that's usually caused by acid that's supposed to be in your stomach and rising up your esophagus," says Willow Jarosh MS, RD. "The tissue of the esophagus, unlike stomach tissue, is not prepared for such an acidic environment, which is why it is unpleasant to have acid in the esophagus." Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and most commonly occurs after you eat, which is why diet can play such a crucial role.
"Meanwhile, indigestion is a very broad term for upset stomach or abdominal discomfort, gas, nausea, or uncomfortable fullness that usually occurs after eating."
Heartburn and indigestion can occasionally occur due to acid reflux, or they can occur frequently if you have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). While acid reflux can be uncomfortable at best (in the worst case scenario, you could end up in a spiral of vomiting and nausea for hours), there are many ways you can try to alleviate symptoms with a few healthy lifestyle changes and opting for foods that help the Neutralize stomach acid.
It's important to note that the occasional acid reflux shouldn't be a factor. However, if you experience it frequently, you should see a doctor. Sometimes other diseases such as heart problems can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
RELATED: Avoid These Foods for a Healthier Heart, According to Experts
What Usually Causes Acid Reflux?
“With occasional heartburn, things like lying down soon after a meal, eating a very large or particularly high-fat meal, drinking a large amount of fluid with a meal, or eating or drinking anything that irritates or relaxes the gastroesophageal sphincter can occasionally occur cause heartburn, ”says Jarosh. “With GERD or frequent acid reflux, certain medications, frequent alcohol consumption, and smoking can cause this. Pregnancy, especially as the baby gets older, can put pressure on the stomach and force acid up the esophagus. Hiatal hernia can also affect pressure and allow acid to enter the esophagus. "
Diet and lifestyle products for acid reflux
Develop some habits before, during, and after eating.
With that in mind, if you have a burning sensation in your chest, you should immediately consider raising the head of your bed (most people suffer at night) to keep the acidic food mixture in your stomach.
"I also recommend not eating too close to bedtime and avoiding large dinners," says Dr. Abisola Olulade, a family doctor. "Other things that can help, but have not proven consistently beneficial, include avoiding smoking, wearing tight-fitting clothing around your stomach, and increasing saliva production by chewing gum, which neutralizes refluxing acid and increases the rate of acid removal can be . ”
Jarosh also advises taking a walk after dinner, noting that the volume of stomach contents can push acid up towards the esophagus. Having your fluids in between meals can help keep the volume down. You'll also want to chew with your mouth closed to avoid taking in too much air with your food, says Dr. Seema Sarin, Director of Lifestyle Medicine at EHE Health.
Pay special attention to diet.
Dr. Olulade says another good solution to acid reflux problems is simply to cut out from your diet certain things that can trigger them, including caffeine, spicy foods, high-fat foods, and carbonated drinks. Peppermint has also been shown to relax the gastroesophageal sphincter muscle. So avoid them in tea. Opt for water whenever possible.
You can try minimizing or eliminating particularly triggering foods with a GERD diet plan. "That would mean avoiding garlic, onions, citrus fruits, tomato / tomato products, and chocolate, as well as the high-fat and spicy foods mentioned above," says Jarosh.
Reach for less off-trigger foods, on the other hand, including whole grains, greens and root vegetables, nuts, bananas, melons, watermelons, eggs, lean meats, and non-sour, probiotic, low-fat yogurt.
When to reach for an OTC or prescription drug
While food is the best place to start the prevention and relief process, if you're wondering what bad heartburn relieves quickly, your safest bet may be an over the counter or prescription option - and your doctor can guide you towards it the best for you.
"Antacids are drugs that neutralize the effects of stomach acid and usually work within minutes to relieve the symptoms of reflux," says Dr. Olulade. Examples are Tums, Mylanta or Maalox. These do not permanently change the gastric acid production, but reduce it temporarily to relieve symptoms.
Another option is a histamine receptor antagonist, which is found in brands like Pepcid and Tagamet. "Histamine receptor antagonists reduce acid release by blocking histamine receptors on stomach cells," explains Dr. Oluade. "They're slower to work than antacids - they can take up to a few hours to work, but they last longer."
Proton pump inhibitors (think Prevacid, Omeprazole, and Nexium) are usually used when the options above don't help. "They are the most powerful stomach acid blockers. They block the pumps that release acid in the stomach and are usually used every day instead of as needed for two weeks. They are most effective when taken 30 minutes before the first meal of the day , because then the proton pumps reach their highest levels - after a long fast. "
RELATED: 5 Foods to Avoid for a Happy, Healthy Gut Microbiome
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