Approximately 20 percent of the population in the United States is affected by gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. While medications may help you manage the burning you feel in your chest, diet and lifestyle changes can help you manage symptoms and pain naturally. Consult your doctor to discuss how best to treat your GERD.
The lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, is a band of muscles that separates your stomach and esophagus and prevents the contents of the stomach from refluxing up into the esophagus. GERD occurs when the LES is weakened or relaxed, allowing the acidic contents of the stomach to regurgitate into the esophagus. This, in turn, causes heartburn and discomfort. If left untreated, over time the acidic contents of the stomach erode the soft tissue of the esophagus, which may lead to esophagitis or esophageal ulcers.
Food and GERD
Making changes to what you eat can help prevent the relaxation of the LES and reduce the pain and damage caused by acid reflux. Foods high in fat and a substance in chocolate called methylxanthine both relax the LES and increase risk of reflux, so you should limit or avoid foods high in fat and chocolate. In addition to fried foods, you may also need to avoid foods naturally high in fat such as whole milk, full-fat cheese and nuts such as almonds.
Coffee, with or without caffeine, also seems to exacerbate reflux. Alcohol, mint, citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit, caffeinated beverages, spicy foods and tomato products may also cause irritation. You may also need to avoid certain herbs and spices, such as oregano, garlic and basil.
Diet Modification and GERD
In addition to foods, you also want to make changes to how you eat. Large meals increase stomach pressure and risk of reflux, so eat five to six mini meals daily. Also, leave at least three hours after dinner before going to bed, suggests the McKinley Health Center. Losing weight if you're overweight may also help improve GERD.
A number of home remedies purport to treat GERD naturally, including herbal teas like chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera juice and milk. Talk to your doctor if considering an alternative form of treatment. Some of these remedies may not be helpful and may do more harm than good.
For example, drinking a glass of milk before bed is often recommended as a way to prevent nighttime heartburn. However, the milk may have the opposite effect by increasing stomach acid production and aggravating the reflux, according to dietitian Gloria Tsang at HealthCastle.com.
The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests probiotics, found in foods such as yogurt and miso, promote digestive health and may be helpful to those with GERD.