Most people are familiar with the blazing pain of heartburn, but if it’s more than just an occasional occurrence, you might have a condition known as acid reflux.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid and undigested food flows upward into the esophagus from the stomach. If acid reflux happens more than twice per week, it is considered GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month, and as many as 30 million of them have GERD. Acid reflux that turns into GERD can result in complicated issues involving the esophagus and digestive tract, and in serious cases, even esophageal cancer.
If you experience regular symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux, you need to address it. Unfortunately, conventional medicine offers prescriptions that take care of some symptoms but cause a host of other side effects.
Thankfully, there are some natural ways to address acid reflux that can help more permanently correct the problem.
What Causes Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows upward into the esophagus. The gastroesophageal sphincter is a flap or valve that acts as the gateway between the tender tissue of the esophagus and the thicker lining of the stomach. When the valve isn’t working correctly, acid reflux occurs.
Acid reflux is also known as pyrosis and there are many different triggers, including:
- Hiatal hernia
- Magnesium deficiency or low levels
- Inability to properly digest and absorb carbohydrates
- Lack of physical exercise
- pylori bacteria
- Medication side effects
- Caffeine intake
- Alcohol consumption
- Excess salt intake
- Diet low in fiber
- Eating large meals or overeating
- Excessive exercising or overtraining
- Laying down within 1-2 hours after a meal
- Eating chocolate
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- Drinking acidic juices
- Regular use of ibuprofen and other NSAIDs
- Antibiotic exposure
- Eating spicy foods
- Eating tomatoes
- Eating citrus fruits
- Eating fried, fatty, or “fast food” greasy foods
Symptoms of Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is more than just heartburn alone, which is why some people might not realize they have it. Common symptoms of acid reflux can include:
- Bitter, sour, or burning taste in the mouth or at the back of the throat
- Waking up coughing in the middle of night or coughing after lying down
- Bad breath
- Irritated gums and/or periodontal disease
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Belching, gas, or gas pains in the intestines
- Hiccups that frequently occur
- Problems swallowing or gagging on food
- Regurgitation from bending over or squatting
- Chronic sore throat
Acid reflux and GERD have some overlapping symptoms, but the most common ones associated with GERD include:
- A persistent, dry cough from esophageal irritation
- Asthma and lung problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Throat problems
- Hoarseness and sore throat pain
- Problems swallowing food
- Chest pain
- Dental erosion
- Bad breath
If you have these symptoms, it’s important to address them with your doctor. However, if you want to get to the underlying cause of the issues, you’ll need to look deeper than simply popping antacids.
There are many proven ways to alleviate acid reflux and to help prevent it from reoccurring.
5 Natural Ways to Address Acid Reflux
Conventional treatments for acid reflux include over-the-counter medications like antacids, as well as prescription medications like PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) or H2 blockers—all of which can result in perpetuating a cycle of always depending on medication.
These types of medication can also interfere with digestion and can disrupt certain nutrients as they’re being absorbed, resulting in malabsorption. They have numerous side effects that, for some people, are worse than dealing with the acid reflux in the first place.
Most acid reflux is the result of too little stomach acid, not too much, which is a common misconception. This lack of acid leaves the stomach over-full as it’s trying to digest food.
This is what causes the traffic jam in the esophagus. By focusing on natural ways to address acid reflux, the condition can be corrected and dependence on medication won’t be required.
1. Avoid Certain Foods
Certain foods worsen acid reflux, so if you’re dealing with it, it’s best to avoid them until you have the underlying issues corrected. This will help relieve pain and prevent esophageal damage.
Foods that worsen acid reflux include:
Tomatoes: While tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, they’re also acidic, which can exacerbate the burning feelings associated with acid reflux. Avoid all tomatoes and tomato-based foods like pizza, pasta sauce, salsa, ketchup, and anything else made with or from tomatoes.
Spicy foods: Anything spicy can irritate a reflux problem, including onions, garlic, and even paprika. Avoid anything made with these spices and opt for gentler herbs like rosemary and thyme.
Caffeine: Not only is coffee known to trigger reflux because it’s acidic, but the caffeine in coffee can worsen reflux because it stimulates muscles to contract quickly, which can result in acid backing up in the esophagus.
Citrus fruits: Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, and pineapple are all rich in nutrients, but they’re acidic and can worsen or even trigger acid reflux in sensitive people. Avoid these and opt for low-acid fruits, like apples and pears.
Ultra-fatty and fried foods: Healthy fats can be beneficial, but trans fats and other processed fats in fried and fast foods can cause or worsen reflux.
These can relax the muscles controlling the esophageal sphincter, leading to impaired digestion. Also, people tend to overeat these types of foods, and an extra full stomach will also lead to acid reflux.
Peppermint and spearmint: Mint is cooling and refreshing, but it can also worsen burning feelings in the stomach. Anything minty, including breath mints or chewing gum, can worsen reflux and should be avoided.
Dairy products: Most people use a glass of milk to temper acid reflux, but this is only a short-term solution. Because dairy products, especially sweet ones, are acidic, they can worsen acid reflux.
Chocolate: Chocolate is not only an acidic food, but it also contains a component known as “methylxanthine,” which promotes smooth muscle relaxation.
Translation: it can increase reflux by relaxing the flap that keeps food out of the esophagus. Avoid anything made with chocolate, cocoa, or cacao while dealing with reflux.
Alcohol: Another stimulant that is highly acidic, alcohol can worsen the burning sensations associated with acid reflux and should be entirely avoided. Alcohol consumption alone can trigger acid reflux in susceptible individuals.
Artificial sweeteners and additives: These ingredients aren’t recognized by the body as food, since they’re synthetic, and they can worsen reflux because the body doesn’t know how to break them down.
This means they sit in the stomach longer than they should, giving them more time to cause a back-up with the esophagus. Avoid all artificial or synthetic ingredients.
Grains: While fiber can help to reduce acid reflux, grains themselves are acidic in nature and hard to digest, so eating a lot of grains can cause reflux for some people and worsen it in others.
Going grain-free while dealing with acid reflux can be beneficial. Don’t worry, you can still get plenty of fiber from vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Supplements: Certain supplements or nutrients can also worsen acid reflux or GERD and should be used with caution. Ask your doctor if the following supplements could be worsening your acid reflux problems: iron, potassium, and other minerals.
2. Eat Certain Foods
Some foods will promote healthy digestion and can cut down on the occurrence of acid reflux, heartburn, or digestive problems. They include:
Vegetables: Fat and sugar are two problematic food types for acid reflux, but vegetables contain neither. Veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, leafy greens, green beans, sweet potatoes, and cucumber are all unlikely to worsen acid reflux and can even help to soothe a stomach that is having trouble digesting foods. Cooking these foods will further reduce the likelihood of heartburn.
Fruits: Melons, bananas, apples, nectarines, and pears are less likely to trigger reflux symptoms than other fruits, but carefully limiting fruit might be necessary since even natural sugars found in fruits can worsen reflux, especially if it’s a chronic problem.
Ginger: A potently anti-inflammatory spice, ginger can help to treat heartburn, acid reflux, and digestive problems, including nausea.
Poultry: While certain meats can exacerbate reflux issues, chicken and turkey are easier to digest and should be favored over red meats.
Seafood: Cod, salmon, scallops, tuna, shrimp, and other seafood options are easier to digest than red meat and also contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which can help the body fight inflammation. Aim to eat seafood at least three times per week.
Easy to Digest Fats: While saturated fats might be harder to digest, some fatty foods are beneficial for people who suffer from reflux. Focus on avocado, walnuts, flaxseeds, olive oil, and chia seeds to get a boost of healthy fats without worsening digestion.
3. Focus on a Slow Eating Approach
Amazingly enough, the way that you sit while eating, as well as the types of clothes that you wear can influence how well your food digests. Eating with proper posture, at a table, in a slow manner—with thorough chewing—will start your digestive cycle off on a successful note.
If you’re wearing constrictive clothing, especially around your mid-section, it could contribute to stomach irritation and reflux. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing while eating. Sit up straight, ideally at a table, and don’t rush your meals.
Chew your food much longer than you think you need to. Most people chew four to 10 times and swallow, but in order to properly break down food for digestion, it needs to be chewed four times more than that, if not more.
Don’t drink liquids with your meals, as this further waters down your digestive juices and can worsen reflux problems.
4. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
This might sound generic, but basic things like not smoking and not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can dramatically improve acid reflux and GERD.
Additionally, getting regular physical exercise and being within the range of a healthy body weight can improve how your body breaks down food. Either too much or too little exercise can trigger reflux problems.
When it comes to reflux, look for areas of your lifestyle that are unbalanced. If you’re getting too little sleep, this can be a culprit. If you struggle to sleep because of acid reflux, elevate your pillows or the end of your bed four to six inches to help alleviate reflux build up while you’re sleeping.
Additionally, stress can worsen reflux because it can impair digestion. If you’re chronically stressed, take steps to care for yourself whether through deep breathing or meditation, or other proven ways to lower stress levels.
5. Take Supportive Supplements
While some supplements can worsen acid reflux, others can actually help the body better address it. Consider the following:
Digestive enzymes: If your reflux is caused by lack of stomach acid and the inability to fully break down food, these enzymes will help. They boost your stomach’s lack and speed digestion time. They should be taken just before each meal.
Apple cider vinegar: If you get nailed with terrible heartburn or reflux, taking a swig of apple cider vinegar can help to calm the flames. While it might feel counterintuitive, apple cider vinegar is anti-inflammatory, and the acid found in it will help to promote digestion, which will help the food stuck at the bottom of your esophagus to finish digesting and exit the stomach.
Chamomile or papaya: If you’re still having trouble digesting even with enzymes, these are post-meal supplements that can be taken to help ease the pain and discomfort associated with acid reflux.
Probiotics: Digestion is supported by having a healthy gut. If you’re not supporting your microbiome, the rest of the digestive system will suffer. Probiotics can be taken at any time of the day, but when taken after dinner will be able to absorb best and colonize your gut while you sleep.
Aim for broad-spectrum probiotics that contain at least several hundred million colony forming units (CFUs). When reflux is severe, take 100 billion or higher at least once a day until the worst symptoms resolve.
Magnesium: Low levels of magnesium can trigger reflux problems, so supplementing with it can help to relieve painful symptoms, especially when taken regularly to balance levels.
Take 400 milligrams of magnesium chelate or glycerinate once per day. Many take it before bed since it can help to promote restful sleep.
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.