As anyone who has experienced it knows, the discomfort of acid reflux can be excruciating. It can also interfere with sleep and lead to serious medical conditions like esophageal cancer and tooth decay.
If you’re still relying on the conventional approach to acid reflux, you may want to think again. Studies show this can often make things worse! New research shows that Zantac, a common acid reflux treatment, is linked to an increased risk of gastrointestinal cancers. Other commonly used medicines, such as Tagamet and Pepcid, also have many possible negative side effects, including reducing the effectiveness of other medicines. However, keep in mind there is a time and place for medications.
You don’t have to choose between risky pharmaceutical treatment and living with painful acid reflux. Natural remedies can both provide relief and prevent further attacks. Here are some answers to common questions about acid reflux.
What Is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux develops when stomach acid travels up your esophagus, which is the narrow tube from your mouth to your stomach. Movement through the esophagus is controlled by the esophageal sphincter, which lets food through to the stomach, but then contracts to prevent the backwash of acid back into the esophagus. When it’s not working as it should, the result is acid reflux, which leads to feelings of heartburn.
As the name implies, heartburn is an uncomfortable burning sensation in your throat and your chest. Other symptoms of acid reflux frequently accompany this burning sensation, including:
- A hoarse voice
- An acidic taste in your mouth
- Pain when you bend over
- Feelings of pressure behind your sternum
- Bad breath
It’s important to note that acid reflux and heart attacks share many symptoms. If you experience extreme pain, pain in your jaw or back, or breathlessness, seek medical attention immediately to rule out a heart attack.
How Can I Prevent Acid Reflux Naturally?
A holistic approach for acid reflux centers around lifestyle changes, restoring proper stomach acid production (yes, more stomach acid may be needed!), and improving esophageal function. Let’s take a closer look.
1 – Work with a qualified practitioner to address deficiencies and look at your medications
Increasing stomach acid production can be a game-changer for turning chronic acid reflux into a thing of the past. If you’ve been suppressing stomach acid for a long time, it’s important to slowly restore its production. Working with a knowledgeable practitioner is a great place to start. The first steps would include making changes to your diet and incorporating mild remedies such as apple cider vinegar. With guidance, gradually weaning off proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) with the authorization of the prescribing physician can be beneficial; and supplementing with hydrochloric acid (HCl) and digestive enzymes may be necessary to support digestion. Nutrients like zinc and B12 play a crucial role in digestive health, so correcting these imbalances can have a positive impact. It’s worth noting that certain medications, such as painkillers and blood pressure medications can worsen acid reflux symptoms.
2 – Eliminate trigger food and make dietary changes.
Many foods can trigger acid reflux, and it might take some trial and error to figure out which ones cause problems for you. Keeping a detailed food diary can help narrow down the culprits. You may find some are more triggering at certain times of the day, particularly in the evening. Generally speaking, the following foods are common triggers:
- Carbonated beverages, including sparkling water
- Spicy foods
- Deep fried foods
- Tomatoes and tomato sauces
- Highly processed snacks
In contrast, some foods can help fight acid reflux. Studies show that people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet, with its emphasis on whole foods and healthy fats, experience less heartburn.
If, despite your best efforts at prevention, you do have an acid reflux attack, try some proven natural remedies before reaching for pharmaceutical relief. Some natural aids include:
- Ginger. The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger can bring relief to acid reflux symptoms.
- Apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar may help balance stomach acid. Only consume small quantities of diluted apple cider vinegar to avoid harming the esophagus.
- Baking soda. Sodium bicarbonate can neutralize stomach acid, thus minimizing heartburn. Very small amounts, dissolved in water, are best, as too much baking soda can lead to “rebound” reflux.
3 – Butt out!
Tobacco can harm your esophagus, which makes it more vulnerable to reflux. One study looking at ways to reduce acid reflux found that participants who quit smoking were three times as likely to report an improvement in acid reflux as those who still smoked.
4 – Lose weight if needed.
Extra pounds, particularly around the midsection, are associated with an increased risk of acid reflux. Overindulging can also lead to acid reflux because of increased abdominal pressure.
5 – Adjust your sleeping environment and routine.
Try sleeping with your head slightly elevated to facilitate the flow of acid into your stomach. Try putting an 8-inch block under the top of your bed, or find a pillow wedge to elevate your head. Some research suggests sleeping on your right side helps protect your esophagus. As well, try not to eat right before bedtime, since lying down with a full stomach can create problems.
6 – Reduce stress.
In one study, almost half of the participants said stress was the biggest trigger for acid reflux symptoms. Even in today’s fast-paced world, stress reduction and mindfulness activities can make a big difference. Focus on getting enough rest, try meditation, and check out relaxing activities like walking outside. Researchers have found a correlation between regular yoga practice and reduced stomach acid, perhaps due to the relaxation response. However, be careful of poses that put pressure on the abdomen, which can trigger a reflux response.
You don’t have to suffer through acid reflux or risk your long-term health by taking risky medications.
McGwin G. The Association between Ranitidine Use and Gastrointestinal Cancers. Cancers (Basel). 2020 Dec 23;13(1):24. doi 10.3390/cancers13010024. PMID: 33374592; PMCID: PMC7793066.
Richter JE, Rubenstein JH. Presentation and Epidemiology of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Gastroenterology. 2018 Jan;154(2):267-276. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.07.045. Epub 2017 Aug 3. PMID: 28780072; PMCID: PMC5797499.
Chang P, Friedenberg F. Obesity and GERD. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2014 Mar;43(1):161-73. doi 10.1016/j.gtc.2013.11.009. Epub 2013 Dec 27. PMID: 24503366; PMCID: PMC3920303.
Haruma K, Kinoshita Y, Sakamoto S, Sanada K, Hiroi S, Miwa H. Lifestyle factors and efficacy of lifestyle interventions in gastroesophageal reflux disease patients with functional dyspepsia: primary care perspectives from the LEGEND study. Intern Med. 2015;54(7):695-701. doi 10.2169/internalmedicine.54.3056. Epub 2015 Apr 1. PMID: 25832928.
Person E, Rife C, Freeman J, Clark A, Castell DO. A novel sleep positioning device reduces gastroesophageal reflux: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2015;49(8):655-9. doi:10.1097/MCG.0000000000000359
Al-Abri SA, Olson KR. Baking soda can settle the stomach but upset the heart: case files of the Medical Toxicology Fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. J Med Toxicol. 2013 Sep;9(3):255-8. doi 10.1007/s13181-013-0300-4. PMID: 23591957; PMCID: PMC3770998.
Morozov S, Isakov V, Konovalova M. Fiber-enriched diet helps to control symptoms and improves esophageal motility in patients with non-erosive gastroesophageal reflux disease. World J Gastroenterol. 2018 Jun 7;24(21):2291-2299. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v24.i21.2291. PMID: 29881238; PMCID: PMC5989243.
Zalvan CH, Hu S, Greenberg B, Geliebter J. A Comparison of Alkaline Water and Mediterranean Diet vs Proton Pump Inhibition for Treatment of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017 Oct 1;143(10):1023-1029. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2017.1454. PMID: 28880991; PMCID: PMC5710251.
Kaswala D, Shah S, Mishra A, Patel H, Patel N, Sangwan P, Chodos A, Brelvi Z. Can yoga be used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease? Int J Yoga. 2013 Jul;6(2):131-3. doi 10.4103/0973-6131.113416. PMID: 23930033; PMCID: PMC3734640.