What is acid reflux?
Before we discuss the remedies for acid reflux, let’s try to understand why this symptom occurs in the first place, as this will help you manage the condition much better. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acids spill out upwards into the esophagus, which is the pipe that leads food from your throat to the stomach. Between the esophagus and the stomach, there is a “valve” called the lower esophageal sphincter, which tightens and relaxes at the right time to let food into the stomach but not let the acid splash out.
When this sphincter doesn’t work as it’s supposed to, you get acid reflux. Unlike the stomach, the esophagus doesn’t have the membrane protecting it from stomach acid, and the lining of the esophagus becomes damaged, causing burning pain in the chest and throat. Home remedies go a long way in managing this painful symptom. They intend to position the body in a way that will not allow the stomach acids to leak into the esophagus and will make the stomach less likely to do so in the first place.
1. Licorice and other herbs
People have been taking licorice to aid digestion and deal with digestive issues for millennia, and the herb has a pretty amazing soothing and anti-inflammatory effect on the entire digestive system. However, when it comes to ordinary licorice root, it can only be enjoyed in limited quantities as drinking too much licorice tea or even eating too much licorice candy can affect the cardiovascular system, so you shouldn’t take traditional licorice every day if you’re suffering from vascular issues or heart problems.
A safer alternative is deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), in which the glycyrrhizin compound that raises blood pressure has been removed. It usually comes in tablets with no taste which you should take 20-30 minutes before a meal.
Other herbs, such as ginger and chamomile likewise have soothing properties for the digestive tract and may help you with acid reflux symptoms as well, if you’re not a fan of licorice. All of these herbs can be enjoyed through an herbal tea taken 15-20 minutes before or after a meal.
2. Avoid sleeping on the right side
Do you prefer to sleep on your right side? Switching things up may be worth a shot if you’re suffering from acid reflux, as studies have shown that sleeping on the right side significantly worsens the symptoms of the condition. Though scientists aren’t entirely sure why it happens as of now, it’s most likely due to human anatomy.
This is because the esophagus actually enters the stomach not from the center, but the right side in most people. Therefore, when you lay on your right side, the acid is more likely to reach the esophageal sphincter and leak out. Try switching sides and start sleeping on the left side, if you can.
3. Decrease the portion size
One of the main reasons why acid reflux occurs, in the first place, is because the stomach is stuffed with food to the brim and pressure builds up inside, making the esophageal sphincter more likely to stretch out and let acid spill into the esophagus. Hence, managing portion size can go a long way and reduce the likelihood of heartburn and acid reflux.
This doesn’t mean that you have to eat less per se – simply spread out the same amount of food you eat in a day into more but smaller meals. So, instead of having one large meal in the morning and the evening, divide the same amount of food into 3-4 smaller meals spread out evenly throughout the day.
4. Limit how much coffee you drink
Dear fellow coffee drinkers, we have bad news for you – drinking too much coffee has been found time and time again in studies to worsen or trigger acid reflux. Coffee does so in a few different ways. Firstly, coffee has been found to be capable of temporarily weakening the esophageal sphincter. Secondly, the acid damage to the esophagus among coffee drinkers was greater in one study compared to those who don’t drink coffee and still have acid reflux.
And lastly, one research article even showed that coffee increased the duration of acid reflux episodes between meals. Thus, even if the coffee itself does not cause acid reflux, it may make it worse, so cut down on the amount you drink to 1-2 cups a day, or try eliminating it altogether and see if it helps with your symptoms.
5. Don’t eat within three hours before sleep
Are you more likely to get an episode of acid reflux at night? If so, it might be because you’re having a big meal in the evening just a few hours before bed. Studies have shown that eating before bedtime makes you more likely to experience acid reflux symptoms when you’re trying to go to sleep. This is because we sleep in a horizontal position, which makes the stomach acids more likely to spill out, especially on a full stomach.
For the same reason, experts recommend not lying down for the first 20-30 minutes after a meal. The solution is obvious – move the biggest meal of the day to earlier in the afternoon and avoid eating food 3 hours before bed.
6. Stack up those sleeping pillows
If you’re having persistent acid reflux at night, elevating your sleeping position can really help curb those symptoms. Stack those pillows higher than usual, preferably so that your shoulders are higher than your stomach when you lay on your back.
This kind of body elevation has been found beneficial for acid reflux sufferers in a small 2011 study. Participants were asked to place an 8-inch block to elevate the head of their beds. In just one week, they observed significant improvements in their symptoms.
7. Avoid trigger foods and drinks
Certain foods and drinks can temporarily weaken the esophageal sphincter, whereas others simply take too long to digest. Both of these increase one’s risk of developing acid reflux, which is why they are known as “trigger” foods and drinks for acid reflux and should be avoided. Here’s a list of some of the most common acid reflux triggers:
- Raw onions irritate the lining of the esophagus and create a lot of gas when digested, which in turn, builds pressure in the stomach.
- Alcohol increases stomach acid and relaxes the esophageal sphincter.
- Fatty and fried foods like pizza, potato chips, bacon, and fries, are difficult to digest and may stay in your stomach for too long, making you more likely to have acid reflux.
- Chocolate increases the acidity of the stomach, which may worsen the symptoms of acid reflux.
- Chili powder and spicy foods may not cause acid reflux and heartburn, but they can further aggravate the esophagus and make symptoms worse.
- Mint and anything mint-flavored is capable of irritating the esophagus in some people.
- Carbonated drinks loosen the esophageal sphincter and cause belching, which makes acid more likely to escape to the esophagus.
In most cases, trigger foods are individual, so try eliminating one food category at a time, like onions or mint, and see how this influences your symptoms. Over time, you’ll learn which foods make your symptoms worse and will be able to manage them more easily.
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