Do you have a burning feeling in your gut? Not the inspiring, intuition-tapping-on-your-shoulder kinda feeling that tells you to ask that gal out, book the plane ticket or quit your dead-end job. The burning feeling that comes from digestive issues, specifically acid reflux, heartburn and GERD. If you’ve been struggling with this, I want to assure you that you can get relief!
To kick-off your healing journey, we’ll begin with a little knowledge about the differences between these bad boys. And because I understand how uncomfy and downright painful these suckers can be, we’ll also unearth the causes and most importantly, give you some remedies that can help ease your symptoms and soothe your precious system.
When you’re dealing with any (or all) of these, they can disrupt not only your days and nights, but also your overall quality of life. Here’s the good news: these digestive woes can usually be controlled with a little treatment and prevention. Hallelujah! Alrighty, follow me down the esophagus so we can figure this out and get ya back on track…
What’s the Difference Between Acid Reflux, GERD and Heartburn?
Let’s start with acid reflux—the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. It’s very common and may or may not be serious. Anytime that acid decides to go up instead of down, you’re dealing with reflux. The tricky thing is it can present itself in a variety of ways. When you experience acid reflux, it can result in heartburn, sore throat, cough, a bitter taste in the back of the throat, burping and just feeling really overly full.
When acid reflux becomes chronic, it’s typically diagnosed as GERD (a.k.a. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). This is like ongoing acid reflux, meaning it just won’t quit. GERD is usually diagnosed when reflux occurs more than twice a week on a regular basis. Folks with GERD often experience asthma, chest pain, dry cough, swallowing difficulties and frequent regurgitation (yuck!). It’s a more severe form of acid reflux and usually doesn’t respond to over-the-counter antacid or acid-neutralizing meds. For this reason, doctors often prescribe meds which work to limit acid production in the stomach and speed up stomach emptying so that acid has less of a chance of wreaking havoc.
Not only is GERD chronically painful, it can lead to permanent damage to the lining of the esophagus and even increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer, so it isn’t something to brush off or just learn to live with.
Now how does heartburn fit in the mix? It’s actually a symptom of acid reflux or GERD. You know that burning and tightening pain you might feel? That’s heartburn. It also comes from stomach acid that’s making its way back up the esophagus (heading in the wrong direction!). Although the name tends to hint otherwise, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart itself. It’s often mistaken for heart attack pain, but there’s no relation.
So now that we understand what each of these stomach acid issues are, let’s figure out what’s causing them.
The most common cause of acid reflux comes from foods that increase (or create too much) stomach acid. And it can be much worse when you eat any of these on an empty stomach. Here’s a list of foods to avoid if you’re dealing with stomach acid problems:
- Fried foods
- Spicy foods
- Processed foods (anything with artificial ingredients)
- Buttery foods
- High-fat meat
- Acidic foods, like tomatoes and vinegar
- Citrus fruits, like strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, lemon and lime
- Coffee (both regular and decaf)
Now some of these foods, like tomatoes, vinegar, citrus fruits, garlic and onions, are incredibly healthy. So once you’ve remedied the acid-reflux issues and given your system a chance to heal, you may be able to add small servings of them back in without a problem.
But there are a few other causes to look out for aside from your food choices. Eating big meals (think giant portions), being overweight and smoking all increase your chances of having acid reflux-related issues, too.
Ok, now that we’ve got the causes down—who’s coming with me to look at treatment options?
Ways to Remedy
Luckily, there are quite a few things you can try which will likely help you reduce heartburn and acid reflux issues. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are options and that’s always a good thing. Read on!
Shed those extra pounds
Carrying around extra weight increases the pressure on your midsection and the hormones that help regulate pressure in your digestive system. This is why things are getting backed up and flowing backward. Even weight gain of 10 to 15 lbs above healthy weight can increase pressure enough to trigger heartburn and acid reflux. So weight loss may help reduce your symptoms. In one study of over 10,000 women, losing 10 to 15 pounds decreased heartburn by 40%—that’s pretty remarkable!
Find the right sleep position
Keep your head elevated when you’re in bed. This is proven to improve pH of stomach acid—meaning it’ll be less acidic. And our good friend gravity will help prevent the backward flow of acid. Want another sleep tip? Avoid laying on your right side as this may worsen reflux.
Be mindful of your plate
One of the best things you can do is to make food and meal size choices that won’t worsen acid in your system—and this is the tip that helped so many of our Crazy Sexy You friends during our 21-day total wellness program. If you can avoid large meals, fried foods, high-fat foods, especially from animal products (which stay in your stomach longer), and processed foods, you can greatly reduce your acid levels and find relief. Even large, healthy meals can cause problems. So reducing portion sizes and eating partial meals in a couple of sittings may help prevent reflux, as well. Also, check out that list of food triggers above and try to avoid or limit your intake, especially of spicy foods and acidic foods, like tomatoes, citrus and vinegar. It also may help to eliminate coffee (yes, this means decaf, too—sorry!). Do what feels best for you and see if shifting your diet helps things start flowing the right way again.
Press pause and unwind
Carve out time for relaxation and de-stressin’. When you feel tense, your body feels it, too. And sometimes, a little R&R goes a long way. Meditation is a wonderful way to unplug from the world. If you’re new, you can check out my free Pep Talk meditation here to get started. Take a bath, read a book, go for a walk, look at the stars. Do whatever makes you feel less stressed and more chill. Another thing you may want to try are essential oils. (I’m a big fan!)
Try out some supplements or medication
Digestive enzymes and probiotics are wonderful supplements that can help ease and boost digestion. You may want to add these to your diet and see if they make a difference. However, if your symptoms are affecting your quality of life or showing up more than a couple times a week, then it might be time to talk to your doc and look into over-the-counter or prescription medications for help.