Why Your Diet Can Give You Acid Reflux
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Did you ever notice that burning sensation in your esophagus after eating a meal? This is your stomach acid that is moving back up into your throat. Your stomach acid is very acidic and is irritating the lining of your esophagus. That’s the burning sensation you feel. But why do some foods give acid reflux? Does diet have an effect on acid reflux? Read on to find out!
Almost everyone will have experienced acid reflux at some point in their life. And usually, this is nothing to worry about. Only when the reflux is often recurring, will it start causing problems.
As I mentioned in the intro, stomach acid is very acidic (it has a low pH). Your stomach is equipped to withstand this acidity and has a protective mucus layer to avoid the acid from dissolving the stomach lining. Your esophagus does not have this protective layer and will get affected by stomach acid if it comes into contact with it too often. This will leave you with a burning sensation after eating and during the night, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, reflux of food or sour liquid and a sensation of a lump in your throat.
Warning: If you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms (chest pain, difficulty swallowing and/or jaw or arm pain, shortness of breath) always contact your doctor ASAP. These are also signs of a heart attack. Better safe than sorry.
If the reflux is recurring on a regular basis, it will often be diagnosed as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). GERD can be treated with medication, like proton pump inhibitors (PPI) (for example omeprazole). Although the long-term use of PPI’s might cause other health issues, like SIBO which are further studied.
But food and lifestyle choices also have a great deal of influence on it! And that might very well be the better way to go.
Always make sure to get a diagnosis from your doctor first, before you decide to make changes to your diet or lifestyle!
Mechanisms Behind GERD
Why do some people experience reflux and others don’t? Let’s look at the mechanisms which make reflux possible.
LES pressure is an important term in relation to GERD. Between the stomach and the oesophagus is a barrier called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES). Together with pressure from the diaphragm and the angle in which the esophagus is connected to the stomach (angle of His), the LES will prevent stomach acid from going back into the esophagus.
If this all works together without problems, no reflux is seen. But the pressure on the LES can be influenced by diet, and this can cause problems.
Lower Esophageal Sphincter Relaxations (TLESRs)
Another way that reflux can occur is during the relaxation of the LES regardless of diet.
When there is a lot of pressure in the stomach from gas, the LES will relax to let the gas out (and have you burp). When the LES is relaxed, the stomach acid will also have a chance to flow back into the oesophagus. The pressure can also rise from a large meal, or a slower emptying of the stomach.
Diet and GERD
What can you do to prevent GERD from happening? Which foods to avoid?
The following table provides information on the food(groups) and drinks to look out for with GERD. All of these foods don’t have strong evidence in relation to GERD symptoms and keep in mind that everyone is different. What works for your neighbor might not work for you. If you want to eliminate foods from your diet, do this one-by-one. If you eliminate everything at once, you will never be able to tell the difference between effective eliminations and ineffective ones.
Changing your diet to improve symptoms is always best to do with help from a specialized dietitian. This way you can prevent nutrient deficiencies and find out what works for you specifically. Click here to schedule a free symptom assessment with the Positive Gut dietitian.
|Foods to look out for||Mechanism behind it|
|Acidic foods and drinks||The acidity will affect the oesophagus even without reflux|
Acidic foods and drink will make stomach acid even more acidic
|Carbonated drinks||Will stimulate LES relaxation because of pressure in the stomach|
|Coffee||Reduces LES pressure|
|Alcohol||Reduces LES pressure and slowed stomach emptying|
|Chocolate||Reduces LES pressure|
|Mint||Reduces LES pressure|
|Spicy foods||Irritate the oesophagus, even without reflux|
|Fatty foods||Reduces LES pressure and slowed stomach emptying|
|Carbohydrates (mostly starch and simple sugars)||Reduces LES pressure|
|Fiber (positive effect!)||Mechanism unkown, but studies have shown a reduction in acid reflux with a higher fiber intake, specifically psyllium fiber has been studied.|
Eating Habits and GERD
Apart from the foods and drinks you’re using, the way you eat and your lifestyle can also be of great influence on GERD symptoms.
Try to avoid any late-night meals and laying down after a meal, large meals, or calorie-dense (fatty) meals. These can all increase pressure in the stomach and cause the LES to relax to release pressure.
When you’re experiencing symptoms at night, try to avoid laying on your right side. Your Lower Esophagal Sphincter (LES) is located on the right side of your stomach. Try laying on your left to avoid extra pressure on your LES.
If you’re overweight, weight loss can be helpful. Belly fat can increase the pressure on the stomach and cause more acid reflux.
Moderate physical activity (30 minutes a day) has been shown to reduce GERD symptoms. And apart from that, it is great for overall health and gut health too!
Smoking has a negative effect on GERD. If you smoke (and you’ve probably heard this before…) try to stop.
Do you have GERD? What has worked for you to improve your symptoms? Let me know in a comment below!
Hi there, I’m Manon.
In my daily life I work as a registered dietitian in the Netherlands with a special interest in gut health.
During my workday I get loads of questions about healthy food, recipes and lifestyle to make it a little easier to get healthy. On Positive Gut I collect my best recommendations, tips and recipes to make your healthy lifestyle a little easier!