I was watching an antacid advertisement the other day and wished I could show the marketing people a piece of my mind. The guy in the ad was sitting in front of a huge family sized meal platter suffering from heartburn. Then, with one sip, he sighs with relief and says ” Now, I can eat as much as I want!” Well, my friend, you certainly can! But not only are you masking your real problem, you’re merely finding a short-term solution. I’m not saying we should not take antacids. Antacids are good and efficient and necessary but should not be used as an excuse to eat whatever we want, as much as we want, and whenever we want! If you see yourself frequently reaching out for antacids after any meal, please consult with your physician.This is not a matter to be taken lightly.
Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition in which acid from the stomach flows backwards up into the esophagus. This acid causes a burning sensation in the chest commonly known as heartburn. When the reflux is chronic the condition is termed Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD. Other common symptoms of GERD include acid taste, increased belching, dry cough, difficulty swallowing, bloating and occasional chest spasms.
What causes GERD?
Keeping it simple without boring you with anatomy lessons, the main factors that affect GERD are the factors that affect the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is the last few centimeters of the esophagus where it meets the stomach. It is responsible for preventing the reflux of gastric acids into the esophagus. Consider it a valve that opens and closes to allow food to pass by, normally downwards. However, in people with GERD, the LES opens, and the stomach acids can easily flow back up.
What causes the LES to open?
- Hormones (in pregnancy, during the late phase of the menstrual cycle and in case you are taking progesterone-containing oral contraceptives)
- Nutrients (dietary fats)
- Certain medications (some medications for asthma for example)
- High pressure on the stomach (overeating and drinking, lying down after meals)
- Substances such as cigarettes, caffeine, mint and mint oils, alcohol and chocolate.
Treatment for GERD includes diet and lifestyle changes, medications and surgery if everything else fails. What are these changes?
- Eat small, frequent meals and avoid large meals
- Avoid single high-fat meals, instead eat low-fat high protein meals
- Avoid alcoholic beverages
- Avoid chocolate, coffee, mints (even mint chewing gum), garlic, onion, cinnamon. These foods should be based on personal experience. A food that causes a reaction in one person may not affect others at all.
- Avoid drinking liquids with meals
- Don’t lie down after eating. Wait for 3 hours.
- Elevate the head of the bed if needed
- Avoid smoking. Smoking increases acid secretion and opens the LES among others. This is a no-brainer! If you’re still smoking, please, for your overall health, quit!!
- Avoid tight-fitting clothes
- Lose weight if you are overweight
In case you are having a flare-up and suffering from an inflammation in the esophagus (known as esophagitis);
- Avoid acidic foods including citrus fruits and tomatoes, tomato sauces…
- Avoid spicy foods and follow a bland diet
If you have ever suffered from reflux, you certainly know how debilitating it can be. It can interfere with your sleep, your work and your social activities. So don’t ignore the symptoms and check with your doctor for he can recommend the proper course of treatment.
References: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, American Dietetic Association