Gastro-esophageal reflux — informally known as reflux, heart burn or acid indigestion — occurs when gastric acid, duodenal bile and enzymes reflux into the esophagus, causing inflammation of sensitive esophageal tissue. Chronic reflux leads to inflammation and ulceration of esophageal mucosa, with possible fibrosis and stricture of the esophagus.
About 25% of population experience heartburn at least monthly, and it can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Weakened esophageal sphincter
- Food allergies
- Excessive acid production
- Inefficient acid production
The following conditions and behaviors can increase your risk of reflux, so be aware if you experience any of the following:
- OCP or pregnancy
- IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- Peptic ulceration
- Sliding hiatus hernia
- Ascites and obesity
Your diet can play a huge role in whether or not you experience reflux, and how badly. When possible, avoid the following to ensure your gut is at its happiest:
- Heavy meals
- Acidic foods and drinks, such as caffeinated drinks (tea and coffee), decaffeinated coffee, and orange juice
- Chocolate, spearmint and peppermint. They can relax the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Carbonated beverages
- Garlic and onions
- Fatty foods, including full fat milk, which also may relax the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Foods that irritate the mucosa, such as citrus, tomatoes, pepper and spices — as well as very hot or very cold foods
- Gluten grains: Wheat, rye, barley, and some processed oats all contain gluten, which is a protein that is very hard for the digestive system to process. Instead, switch to healthy, non-GMO grains like millet and quinoa. These not only add beneficial fiber to your diet, but are much easier on digestion.
You should incorporate the foods and habits below to improve your digestive health and reduce your risk of reflux:
- Aloe vera juice
- Liquids between meals
- Smaller meals
- Eat slowly and chew your food.
- Don’t eat 2-3 hours before bed.
- Include fiber in your diet.
- Chamomile tea — soothes and neutralizes stomach acid
- 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar a day to lower the pH of the stomach
- Increase protein in diet for healthy collage production.
- Supplements that could alleviate symptoms: 1. Slippery elm — soothes irritated and inflamed tissues 2. Digestive enzymes — assist digestive function
- Elevate the head of the bed by about 15-20 centimeters.
- Avoid tight clothing, particularly after eating.
- Avoid lying down or bending over after eating.
- Lose weight.
- Stop smoking.
- Reduce stress.
- Consider body work such as kinesiology to strengthen the esophageal sphincter.
- Avoid antacids; they neutralize stomach acid, inhibit correct digestion of foods and hinder nutrient absorption. Antacids are given to most people who suffer from reflux, but they offer a short-term quick fix and don't solve the underlying problem.