Most of us have experienced the burning, painful sensation in the center of the chest that is associated with heartburn. In fact, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a common condition that causes acid reflux and heartburn, affects up to 28% of people in North America.
GERD occurs when gastric acid is pushed up from the stomach into the esophagus, causing a heartburn sensation. According to this study, GERD affects all age groups, mentioning that the proportion of younger patients with this digestive disorder has increased significantly over the last decade.
Although medications often treat acid reflux and heartburn, many lifestyle changes can help you prevent and reduce symptoms while improving your quality of life.
Here are 9 scientifically proven ways to reduce acid reflux and heartburn!
1. Sleep on your left side
Several studies have shown that sleeping on your right side may worsen GERD symptoms at night. In fact, according to one study, lying on your left side can reduce the amount of acid in the esophagus by up to 71%.
Although the reason for that isn’t entirely clear, anatomy could explain it.
The right side of the stomach is where it meets with the esophagus. As a result, when you sleep on your left side, gravity does its job positioning the esophageal sphincter above the level of gastric acid. On the other hand, when you sleep on the right side, the stomach acid meets the esophagus covering it and increasing the risk of reflux.
Sleeping on the left side all night isn’t something that you can control, but it may help you feel better as you fall asleep.
2. Raise the head of your bed
Some people experience acid reflux and heartburn during the night, which makes falling asleep more difficult, leading to poor sleep quality.
Changing your sleeping posture by raising the head of your bed may help reduce acid reflux symptoms and improve sleep quality. According to one meta-analysis (four past studies were correlated and analyzed), sleeping with your head elevated decreases acid reflux and improves symptoms such as regurgitation and heartburn in people with GERD.
Another study found that those who used a sleeping wedge to raise their upper body while sleeping had fewer acid reflux symptoms than those who slept flat.
3. Eat dinner earlier
People struggling with acid reflux and heartburn should avoid eating about 3 hours before going to bed, according to healthcare professionals. That’s because lying horizontally right after eating makes it more difficult for your digestive system to work, potentially worsening GERD symptoms.
According to one study, lying down right after eating late at night increased acid exposure by 5%, compared with having a meal earlier in the evening. Another study involving 817 patients with type 2 diabetes showed that eating a late-night dinner was associated with an increased risk of acid reflux.
However, more research is needed before making a solid connection between late evening meals and GERD. Still, if you’re struggling with acid reflux and heartburn, our advice would be to avoid having late-night dinners.
4. Go for cooked onions instead of raw
Because of the high amount of fermentable fiber, raw onions are known to be a common trigger for acid reflux and heartburn. One older study in patients with acid reflux found that having a meal containing raw onions significantly increased burping, acid reflux and heartburn compared with eating the same meal but without onions.
More frequent burping may indicate that too much acid is being produced in the stomach. This could be related to the high amount of fermentable fiber found in onions. In addition, our digestive system doesn’t tolerate raw onions well as they tend to irritate the esophageal lining, causing worsened heartburn.
Whatever the reason, if you notice that eating raw onion makes your GERD symptoms worse, you should avoid it and go for cooked onions instead.
5. Eat small frequent meals
The lower esophageal sphincter is a ring-like muscle that connects the esophagus with the stomach. It works as a valve, preventing gastric acid from going up into the esophagus. It usually remains closed, although it may open when you belch, swallow, or vomit.
In people who experience acid reflux, this muscle is dysfunctional or weakened. Acid reflux can also result when the muscle is under too much pressure, allowing acid through the opening.
In most cases, reflux symptoms occur after a meal. It also appears that eating only one or two large meals per day may aggravate symptoms like acid reflux and heartburn. If you find yourself in this situation, try to change your eating habits and go for smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day instead.
6. Maintain a moderate weight
You probably know that the diaphragm is located above your stomach. Well, the diaphragm (which is basically a muscle) naturally helps to prevent excessive amounts of gastric acid from flowing into the esophagus.
However, in people who have excess belly fat, the pressure in the abdomen may build to the point where the lower esophageal sphincter is pushed away from the diaphragm’s support. The condition is called a hiatal hernia and is thought to be the leading cause of GERD.
Furthermore, research suggests that having excess belly fat may increase the risk of acid reflux and heartburn. As a result, several studies have indicated that losing at least 10% of your body weight could considerably reduce GERD symptoms in those who have the condition.
Before going for this approach, we advise you to talk with a healthcare professional to lose weight sustainably and safely.
7. Stick to one cup of coffee a day
Several studies have found that when you drink coffee, your lower esophageal sphincter temporarily relaxes. As a result, you may experience acid reflux and heartburn. The same thing goes for caffeine as well.
It’s worth mentioning that while we do have some evidence about coffee and caffeine worsening acid reflux, the data isn’t entirely conclusive. For instance, one meta-analysis found no considerable effects of coffee consumption on people with GERD. Yet, when researchers used a small camera to look for signs of acid reflux, they discovered that coffee intake was linked to greater damage in the esophagus caused by gastric acid.
So, whether coffee intake aggravates acid reflux and heartburn can depend on the individual. If coffee gives you GERD symptoms, it’s best to limit your intake or simply avoid it.
8. Don’t drink too much citrus juice
Many people get heartburn symptoms after drinking citrus juice, especially orange and grapefruit juice. This is especially true if you drink citrus juice on an empty stomach. The thing about this beverage is that it’s highly acidic, and having too much acid in your stomach can cause heartburn symptoms. Think of citrus juice as fueling the fire.
Not only is citrus juice acidic, but certain compounds found in it (such as ascorbic acid) may irritate the esophageal lining. While this beverage doesn’t actually cause acid reflux and heartburn, it may temporarily worsen the GERD symptoms. Just listen to your body and decide whether citrus juice is good for you.
9. Limit high-fat foods
Fried foods may also be a trigger for acid reflux and heartburn. According to some research, the following fatty foods may aggravate GERD symptoms:
- potato chips
These high-fat foods enhance bile acid secretion, which is then released into the digestive tract. The whole process may irritate your esophagus, contributing to heartburn. One study investigated what happens when people with GERD eat fatty foods. More than half of those who participated in the study said they had GERD symptoms like acid reflux and heartburn after eating high-fat, fried foods.
The study went further: once the participants eliminated triggering foods from their diet, the percentage of those experiencing GERD symptoms reduced from 93% to 44%.
Still, more data is needed to determine how these foods may trigger acid reflux and heartburn. It’s worth mentioning that fats play an important role in a healthy diet. Rather than avoiding them, go for healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats from avocados or olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish.
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