Freedom From Acid Reflux
I don’t know about you, but for me, once day light savings hits I go right into hibernation mode. I begin to wear big sweaters, spend more time inside, and most importantly cook lots of “comfort food.” To me the hallmark of fall is endless bowls of hearty stew and eating a lot more than I do in the warmer months. With these changes in diet many people, including myself, can experience an increase in acid reflux symptoms.
Acid reflux is when the contents of the stomach backflow into the esophagus. Stomach acid is roughly a 1.5 on the pH scale, which makes it 10x more acidic than a lemon. The stomach is the main site of chemical and mechanical breakdown of the food we consume. The acid is a vital part of the digestive process because it is responsible for the chemical degradation of our food. Without proper acidity we are unable to absorb nutrients like B12 and cells cannot utilize free amino acids from protein. At the end of the day, stomach acid is beneficial and necessary for our survival. However, when it escapes the confines of the stomach and enters the esophagus, it can be detrimental to our health. The stomach is designed to handle the low pH of the acid by producing a thick mucus barrier to guard the cells that line the stomach wall. However, the esophagus does not have this kind of protection, leaving it vulnerable to damage.
In a properly functioning digestive system the stomach and its contents are separated from the esophagus by a bundle of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. In the case of acid reflux, the LES relaxes and allows the acid to backflow into the esophagus. These muscles are involuntary controlled by our nervous system but can also be influenced by environmental factors. Beverages like alcohol, coffee, citrus juice, and seltzer as well as chocolate and fried foods can all increase the likelihood of reflux.
Now, it seems easy to pop an antacid or rely on a prescription to alleviate symptoms of acid reflux, however by relying on these band-aid solutions we are not addressing the root cause and only covering up the problem. Luckily, there are a few simple things we can do to reduce the likelihood of experiencing reflux.
First, eliminate all trigger foods. This includes the beverages listed above, in addition to any food that increases your symptoms. This is tough because it can be very individual. My advice is to keep a food journal and write down every time you experience reflux. In just a few short days you should have a better idea of which foods are triggers and can be eliminated.
Second, avoid large meals and restrictive clothing. Both the volume of food in the stomach and pressure from tight pants will push the contents of the stomach up against the LES causing it to lose tone and overtime weakens the effectiveness of the muscles.
Third, take your time and relax while you eat. Remove stressful distractions like work emails, TV, and even arguments, this allows your body to focus on the process of digestion. Additionally, do your stomach a favor and chew your food fully. We should aim for 20-30 chews per bite or enough to make the food a smoothie like consistency. This helps reduce the amount of air swallowed while eating, which can increase pressure on the LES and it also helps the stomach do its job more effectively allowing us to obtain more nutrients from the food we eat.
Lastly, if you tend to experience symptoms at night, adding a foam wedge to elevate the head can be useful in reducing backflow. Aim to elevate 6-8 inches to keep gravity on your side. Additionally, not laying down 2-3 hours after you eat reduces the likelihood of reflux at night.
Reducing acid reflux symptoms requires both dietary and lifestyle changes to achieve results. This holistic approach both simple and effective and cheaper than another bottle of antacid! So, go into the heartiness of the fall and winter with these new skills to keep your stomach acid where it belongs and digestion running smoothly.