Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a common gastrointestinal disorder where the contents of the stomach backwash into the esophagus. This occurs when the sphincter that closes the stomach off from the esophagus relaxes or weakens and opens up inappropriately. In normal digestion, this sphincter opens to allow food to pass into the stomach and closes to prevent food and acidic stomach juices from flowing back into the esophagus. The continual backwash of stomach acid irritates the lining of the esophagus and can cause it to become inflamed.
Anyone can develop GERD, some for unknown reasons. You can be more likely to have GERD if you are pregnant, taking certain medications or a smoker. According to the National Institutes of Health GERD affects about 20 percent of the U.S. population. It is believed that our modern, highly processed western diet and high rates of obesity are contributing factors.
The most common symptoms of GERD are heartburn or acid regurgitation. GERD symptoms most often occur after eating and in many cases adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle can lessen symptoms. In more severe cases medication or more chronic therapy may be warranted. GERD may increase your chance of developing Barrett’s esophagus which affects the lining of your esophagus and is precancerous. It is important to follow the direction of your gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in the digestive system).
- Chest pain, painful burning sensations in the throat or chest
- Difficulty in swallowing or a sensation of a lump in your throat
- Persistent dry cough, hoarseness or sore throat
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux)
- Anything that relaxes the sphincter can worsen symptoms therefore avoidance is helpful to prevent these symptoms. Foods to avoid include fatty foods (fried foods and fatty meats), soda (carbonated drinks), alcoholic beverages, cheese (red wine and cheese), excessive coffee (caffeine), chocolate, citrus foods and peppermint. Also avoid cigarette smoking.
- Nutrition: It is important to eat small, frequent meals and slow down when you eat or drink. Choose whole foods and avoid processed foods such as processed meats and refined grain products, including packaged snacks such as cookies and chips. Focus on nutrient rich plant-based foods with a lower fat content, lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado and nuts and seeds. Include probiotic foods such as fermented vegetables, yogurt or kefir. Ensure adequate daily water intake. Aim for one-half your ideal body weight in ounces.
- Lying down too close to eating time can worsen symptoms for some people. Have a small dinner and try to have your last meal several hours before going to bed for the night.
- Get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise benefits digestive health, helps with managing stress, improving sleep quality and lowering inflammation.
- Speak with your doctor about whether any medications you currently take may be making your symptoms worse. It is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations. In the short-term, antacids and acid blockers can be helpful toward healing but long-term treatment with these medications is not usually encouraged. They can impact proper digestion as well as impede proper absorption of vitamins and minerals such as B12, Calcium and Vitamin D.
- It is important to manage stress because stress can greatly interfere with digestion and can worsen symptoms because it opens our esophageal sphincter. Techniques that help calm stress and anxiety may help reduce symptoms of GERD. Incorporate relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, prayer, or guided imagery. We can also manage stress through using anti-anxiety essential oils such as lavender and frankincense, exercising, practicing yoga or tai chi, and getting more rest.
- Incorporate good sleep hygiene habits and aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night. In addition, it may help to elevate the head of your bed about 6 – 12 inches when sleeping.
By working with your doctor and understanding the causes and proper treatment for GERD, most people can find relief.
-Diane Duvall, Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine. Our Internal Medicine Practice is an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine. We offer health coaching sessions to help you reach your personal goals. Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive, Atlantis FL 33462. Phone: (561) 432-8935, Visit DrGeniAbraham.com and Follow us on Facebook: Dr. Geni Abraham