Food passes to your stomach through your esophagus. When you swallow, a ring of muscle located at the end of your esophagus relaxes, allowing food to enter your stomach. This circular muscular band is known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
Usually, when not swallowing, the LES remains closed to prevent stomach contents from flowing back into your esophagus. However, various factors can cause the sphincter to relax abnormally or weaken, causing stomach acid to rise into your esophagus. This backward flow of stomach acid is what is known as acid reflux.
Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), often causes heartburn, a burning sensation in your chest. If you experience heartburn at least twice a week, it may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD occurs when stomach acid frequently refluxes into your stomach acid. If left untreated, it can result in serious complications such as esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal stricture, and esophageal ulcer.
Below are some of the home remedies for acid reflux that you can try and are most likely to provide relief. How effective the home remedies will work will differ from one patient to another in case you don’t find help, seek medical care.
10 Tips to Help Relief and Prevent Acid Reflux/GERD at Home
1. Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks
Certain foods are more likely to trigger acid reflux or exacerbate your symptoms than others. You should avoid or limit eating or drinking such foods and drinks to see if it helps control your reflux. Then try reintroducing each one by one to identify the foods causing problems; a food journal can help.
Here are examples of trigger foods and beverages:
- Fatty/greasy foods
- Spicy foods
- Tomatoes/tomato sauce/tomato juice
- Citrus fruits and juices such as lemon and orange juice
- Onions and garlic
- Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea
- Carbonated drinks
2. Eat Foods That Can Help Manage Your Acid Reflux Symptoms
While some foods may trigger or worsen acid reflux symptoms such as heartburn and regurgitation, others can help alleviate or prevent the symptoms. These include:
- Fruits. For instance, bananas have natural antacid properties that help neutralize refluxed acid in the esophagus, soothing it, and reducing discomfort. Other low-acid, non-citrus fruits that can help reduce instances of acid reflux and counterbalance stomach acid include melons (namely cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon), apples, and pears.
- Vegetables. From green vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, spinach, and green beans to root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots, these foods are alkaline-promoting, helping lessen stomach acid.
- Whole grains. Examples include oatmeal, brown rice, and couscous. These high-fiber foods leave you feeling full long after eating them, making you less likely to overeat, which could lead to regurgitation and cause acid reflux symptoms.
- Lean proteins. Grill, poach, broil, or bake lean meats such as chicken, fish, turkey, and seafood as they are low-fat, reducing your risk of acid reflux. Egg whites are also a good alternative but avoid the yolks, which are high-fat.
- Healthy fats. Fats are still a necessary part of your diet but choose unsaturated fats instead. Your options are monounsaturated fats, which include most nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oil, peanut oil and butter, sesame oil, and sunflower oil. Or polyunsaturated fats such as walnuts, salmon, mackerel, trout, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds.
- Non-Mint Gum. Chewing gum stimulates saliva production and increases the rate of swallowing, which reduces acid in your esophagus. Chewing gum without spearmint or peppermint flavors is recommended as mint can relax your LES, triggering acid reflux.
3. Eat Sparingly and Slowly
Acid reflux is more likely when you’re too full. So eat smaller meals more frequently than three full meals a day each day. Moreover, eat your food slowly and chew thoroughly to:
- Feel full faster to avoid overeating, which can cause acid reflux or make its symptoms worse.
- Stimulate saliva production, which will help neutralize any acid refluxed in your esophagus.
- Promote weight loss or maintenance.
4. Maintain Good Posture When Eating and After Eating
Sit upright when eating and avoid lying down till after at least 2 hours after eating. When you lie flat soon after eating, stomach contents can easily flow back up your esophagus as this puts pressure on your LES.
So no slouching when eating, napping after lunch, eating supper late at night, or midnight snacking. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) recommends “standing up and walking around after a meal” to help keep stomach acid in the stomach.
5. Sleep at an Incline
Ideally, sleep with your head elevated 6 to 8 inches to prevent acid reflux and heartburn from worsening. Do this by placing blocks under the legs supporting your bed’s head or using a foam wedge pillow to elevate your upper body. Raising your head with extra pillows won’t be effective.
6. Avoid Tight Clothing
Wearing clothes that fit tightly around your abdomen puts extra pressure on your stomach and your lower esophageal sphincter, increasing your risk of acid reflux and, by extension, GERD. So especially for bottoms, choose loose-fitting clothing and loosen up your belt.
7. Quit Smoking
Nicotine weakens your LES, allowing for the backward flow of stomach acid. Consequently, smokers are more prone to acid reflux and heartburn episodes. If you’re a nonsmoker, avoid secondhand smoke as it can worsen your acid reflux/GERD symptoms.
8. Aim for or Maintain a Healthy Weight
Having excess pounds, especially around your abdomen, puts extra pressure on your stomach. As a result, stomach acid is more likely to travel up your esophagus, causing a burning sensation in your chest, i.e., heartburn.
If you’re at a healthy weight, work to maintain it by eating healthy and exercising regularly. If you’re overweight or obese, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends you “talk with your doctor or a dietitian about weight loss diet plan that can help you lose weight and decrease your GERD symptoms.”
9. Try Herbal Remedies
Some people find herbs useful in relieving acid reflux or GERD symptoms. Examples of some of the herbs include:
- Chamomile. Drinking a cup of chamomile tea can help neutralize the acidity levels in your digestive tract.
- Licorice. It is said to increase your esophageal lining mucous coating, making it more resistant to the irritating effects of refluxed stomach acid.
- Ginger root. For ages, ginger has been a popular folk medicine for various diseases, especially gastrointestinal conditions. It helps with acid reflux by reducing stomach acid production, lessening its likelihood of flowing up into your esophagus.
Note: Herbal remedies can have serious side effects, so consult your doctor about a safe dosage before using them.
10. Try Relaxation Techniques
Stress and anxiety can worsen heartburn and other symptoms of GER/GERD. So relaxing your body and mind can help ensure your LES functions as it should, preventing the backward flow of stomach contents.
Relaxation techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and meditation, can help manage your stress levels and reduce muscle tension.
If you try these home remedies, lifestyle changes and alternative medicine remedies don’t work, you may also need over the counter medications such as antacids, H-2-receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors.
If your symptoms persist despite the OTC medication or if you suspect you have GERD, see your doctor. He/she may recommend prescription medication or, in some cases, surgery.
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- Harvad health publishing, Ways to relieve acid reflux without medication, November, 2015
- Dossett ML, et al. (2017). Integrative medicine for gastrointestinal disease. DOI: 10.1016/j.pop.2017.02.002
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940
- Treatment for GER and GERD. (2014).niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/treatment