Before you reach for heavy-duty, prescription-strength drugs, try these suggestions.
Acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which is a more scientific way to describe heartburn, affects 50 percent of Americans. While heartburn suggests you just ate a pizza that bothered you, GERD is when food, acid contents, bilious material or pancreatic juices travel back up into your esophagus, causing trouble more than twice a week, says Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist in Chesapeake, Va.
The acid solution that splashes up into the esophagus causes inflammation, irritation and scarring, which can narrow the circumference of the esophagus. Symptoms include hoarseness, food getting stuck, burning, irritation, nausea, coughing, wheezing, asthma symptoms and eroded tooth enamel. It also increases your odds of esophageal cancer.
Getting to the root of the problem is the most important step. People who are overweight or older tend to be affected more since abdominal fat interferes with esophagus function, and the esophageal sphincter, which prevents backsplash, weakens with age. And many of the best things in life can relax the sphincter, including chocolate, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and greasy, spicy and fatty foods.
But it’s not a hopeless situation. Here are some of the best natural home remedies to try for the occasional bout of acid reflux:
1. Lose weight. Studies show losing 10 percent of your body fat can improve acid reflux symptoms.
2. Embark on an anti-reflux diet (eliminating all those yummy vices above). “Don’t get too excited; it only makes a difference for about 30 percent of people,” says Raymond. “Plus, the problem with the diet is that we find most people would rather die than be on that diet for the rest of their life.”
3. Try eating raw almonds, an alkaline-producing food that can balance your pH because they are a good source of calcium, says Dr. Millie Lytle, a naturopathic doctor in New York.
4. Drink two ounces of unprocessed aloe vera juice daily.
5. Start your day with a cup of warm water and fresh lemon juice. “By drinking this on an empty stomach 15 to 20 minutes before eating anything else, the body can naturally balance out its acid levels. It’s a great digestive aid and is safe for all users,” says Rebekah Fedrowitz, an applied holistic nutritionist.
6. Try a tablespoon of baking soda in a half cup water — not tasty but effective.
7. Take 1 to 2 teaspoons daily of apple cider vinegar. It’s great mixed with honey in tea or instead of lemon in tea. “Many people mistakenly believe all acid reflux and indigestion is caused by an overproduction of acid. The latest research shows it’s actually the opposite for many people: There is too little acid produced to adequately digest the food eaten,” says Christina K. Major, holistic nutritionist and naturopathic doctor in Trevorton, Pa. Pickles, sauerkraut and other highly acidic foods also work well to help stimulate acid.
8. Eat a Red Delicious apple after problematic meals.
9. “Supplement with Saccharomyces boulardii, a probiotic strain specifically for the small intestine, to help optimize absorption of key vitamins for optimal digestive health,” says Stella Metsovas, author of “The 21 Day Digestive Health Detox.”
10. Take the herbal supplement slippery elm in capsule, powder or lozenge form, as it soothes the irritated tissues of the digestive tract.
11. Chamomile, mint or fenugreek tea may help reduce acid reflux symptoms.
12. Chew a stick of gum after meals to increase saliva production, which research shows can reduce acid levels in the esophagus.
13. Sleep on your left side. Studies found sleeping on your stomach or right side can cause additional pressure that increases GERD symptoms. Left-side sleepers report relief.
Here are six more tips from Dr. Jamie Koufman, professor of clinical otolaryngology at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of the New York Medical College and author of “Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook and Cure”: Quit smoking, don’t wear clothing that is too tight, don’t exercise directly after a meal, don’t lie down right after eating or eat within three hours of bedtime, and elevate the head of your bed if you’re a nighttime refluxer.