Many people will have at some time experienced those uncomfortable symptoms of acid reflux or heart burn. With acid reflux, it’s the unpleasant taste of stomach acid and food combined being regurgitated into the throat and mouth and for heartburn it is the burning sensation in the chest. These leave you feeling uncertain and worried as you never know when you will have it again.
During normal digestion, what we eat and drink moves from the mouth down the oesophagus and into the stomach. At the bottom of the oesophagus, there is the lower oesophageal sphincter, which opens to allow the food into the stomach and then closes. In the stomach, acid and enzymes are secreted and help break down the food.
For those suffering from acid reflux, the lower oesophageal sphincter does not function properly, as it allows the contents of the stomach back up into the oesophagus, which damage its lining and also causes different symptoms like heartburn, nausea, difficulty swallowing and the unpleasant taste of regurgitated food and acids.
There are many causes of acid reflux or heartburn, including:
- Being overweight
- Eating large meals
- Eating just before going to sleep
- Bending forward or lying down
- Drinking excess alcohol
- Drinking carbonated drinks or caffeine
- Eating spicy meals
- Eating processed foods that are rich and creamy
- Eating foods that trigger it and this will vary from person to person
- Certain medical conditions like hiatus hernia
- Some medication may cause it, including hormonal therapy
If you have had acid reflux or heartburn you can try to incorporate the following dietary and lifestyle changes. I share below seven suggestions:
- Healthier eating habits
Don’t skip meals, as you will later feel very hungry and end up eating a large meal, which puts pressure on the stomach and the sphincter. Instead make sure you keep to regular meal times and are not overeating at any one time. You could also try to eat more frequently and have smaller portions, by having three meals and two snacks. Do chew your food well and eat mindfully, eating slowly and enjoying your meal.
- Meal timing
Have a gap of about 2 to 3 hours between dinner and bedtime and avoid lying down soon after you have eaten.
- Eliminate or reduce certain foods and drinks
There may be certain foods that may be triggering acid reflux and it is best to eliminate these and then gradually add them in, to identify which food is causing it for you. Some foods that can trigger it are tea, coffee, mint, spicy foods, foods high in fat, sugary foods, chocolate, alcohol, carbonated water, etc
It takes time to identify the foods, so this may seem difficult initially, but if you plan and prepare, you can do it.
Remember it is harder to remove foods overnight as you may have withdrawal symptoms, so start by first reducing the foods and then eliminate them. Also, find alternatives to have instead so you do not struggle with cravings.
- Lose weight
If you are overweight and have been advised to lose weight, you should make this a priority. Being overweight puts pressure on the stomach and the sphincter.
If you are taking any medication check with your doctor if acid reflux or heartburn could be a side effect. If you are taking hormonal therapy consult with your doctor to see if it is causing it.
- Lift the head of your bed
When you sleep, make sure that your head is higher than your feet. You can do this by elevating the head side of the bed by putting extra support below the legs.
- Keep a diary
Begin to track what you are doing daily; making note of your routines, including what you ate, what time you ate and also if you exercised, etc. You can then see a pattern of what you have been doing and when you experienced the symptoms.
Frequent occurrences of acid reflux are referred to as Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease
(GORD). If you suffer from these symptoms you should consult your doctor, as it could result in more severe diseases. For instance it may result in ulcers or lead to a condition known as Barrett’s Oesophagus.
Please note that this information is for your education and information use only and not to provide diagnosis or treatment. Please consult with your doctor if you experience any symptoms.
This article was written for Fuchsia Magazine
 Brian C. Jacobson, MD, MPH, Beverly Moy, MD, MPH, Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH, and Charles S. Fuchs, MD, MPH. Postmenopausal hormone use and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux Arch Intern Med. 2008 Sep 8; 168(16): 1798–1804.doi: 10.1001/archinte.168.16.1798