People with acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) typically do two things to alleviate their symptoms: 1. they take antacids regularly and 2. they avoid acidic foods. But what really causes GERD and are these really the best methods for alleviating it?
Ironically, acid reflux is not a case of someone having too much stomach acid –quite the contrary. In fact often older adults who suffer from GERD do so in part because stomach acid production declines with age. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, eating too many acidic foods doesn’t cause acid reflux.
Stomach acid is actually a good thing. Produced by the cells in the stomach, it is a very necessary part of a healthy digestive system and is primarily responsible for breaking down proteins. As long as it stays in the stomach, the acid remains helpful not harmful because the cells lining the stomach are designed to withstand its potentially corrosive effects.
Stomach acid can be harmful, however to the more delicate lining of the esophagus when the lower esophageal sphincter muscle (LES) relaxes and fails to close firmly. The LES is responsible for keeping food moving in a one-way direction from the esophagus to the stomach when you eat. If the LES relaxes, however, acid can escape the stomach and travel back up into the esophagus.
Dietary modifications can be helpful in managing GERD, in particular avoiding foods that lower the pressure in the LES. These include fatty foods, citrus juices, tomatoes, peppermint and chocolate.
Furthermore, drinking alcoholic and caffeinated beverages and smoking stimulates acid secretion by the stomach so that there is more acid to regurgitate. They’re best avoided as well if you suffer from GERD.
Here are some other tips for reducing acid reflux
1. Lose weight if you are overweight. Excess abdominal fat can put pressure on the stomach and cause reflux.
2. Avoid tight-waisted clothing which can squeeze the stomach and put pressure on the LES.
3. Avoid over-eating. Large meals also put pressure on the LES.
4. Don’t recline after eating and wait at least 2 hours after eating before retiring for the night.