Acid reflux affects people of all ages from the very young up to older generations. Its symptoms can be debilitating, so it’s no wonder people look to science for relief. Medication can control acid reflux in the short-term, but for those who continue to suffer, some basic lifestyle changes can help to make it more manageable. In this blog, we look at what causes acid reflux and how your diet could improve day-to-day life.
What causes acid reflux?
Acid reflux is caused by a combination of too much stomach acid and a weak esophageal sphincter – a bundle of muscles that separates the esophagus from your stomach. This ring of muscle stops stomach acid from escaping into your throat, but in people with severe acid reflux, the sphincter isn’t doing its job.
Most people will suffer from acid reflux at some point in their life, but some are more at risk than others. Smokers and heavy drinkers, for example, are more likely to suffer. But often the onset of acid reflux, is down to our everyday eating habits. This includes:
- eating too much
- eating quickly or on-the-go
- a diet high in fatty foods
- too much acidic food and drink
- bad posture or tight clothes
Other clinical factors include pregnancy, obesity, and even stress or anxiety. In rare instances, severe acid reflux can be caused by an underlying medical condition. If you have heartburn most days for three weeks or more, you should see your GP.
Changes to your lifestyle
Simple changes to your lifestyle can reduce the impact acid reflux has on your life.
The NHS recommends eating smaller meals more frequently, to avoid over filling your stomach in one sitting, which can lead to painful indigestion¹. Doctors also suggest trying to lose weight, cutting down on smoking, and reducing your alcohol intake.
Acid reflux is often worse when you lie down at night – in this position stomach acid is able to flow back up into your throat. To counter this, try to avoid eating at least three to four hours before you go to bed. You could also raise the end of your bed by 10 to 20 centimetres, so your chest and head are above your waist level. Always check with a medical practitioner before you adjust a baby’s cot or toddler bed.
Some foods are more likely to trigger acid reflux, so a simple change to your diet could help to manage symptoms, particularly in long-term sufferers.
Foods to avoid
The obvious foods to avoid are coffee, chocolate, and fizzy drinks. These are the main culprits of heartburn, but there are many more.
High fat food
Fatty food is hard to digest and stays in your stomach for longer, putting extra pressure on your gut. Experts agree that cutting back on foods high in fat can help manage your symptoms. Where possible, try to avoid:
- greasy chips and crisps
- creamy sauces and dips
- whole milk
- full fat cheese and butter
Some fruits and vegetables
Most people would agree that fruit and vegetables are good for you, but there are some that can trigger the symptoms of acid reflux, such as:
- citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes)
Tomatoes are particularly difficult to completely eliminate because they appear in many of our favourite foods, like pizza and pasta sauce. This is also the case for garlic, so rather than cutting it out completely, try reducing the amount you use instead.
There is some disagreement from experts on whether spicy foods cause acid reflux. Find the foods that trigger your acid reflux by keeping a food diary, and cut back on anything that irritates your digestive system.
Foods that help
Vegetables are naturally low in fat and sugar, which can help balance stomach acid. Leafy green vegetables are particularly good, but you could also try:
- green beans
Though some fruits are high in acid, you are unlikely to suffer from reflux if you stick to bananas, apples, pears, and melons. Whole grain cereals, bread, and rice are also low-risk and they are an excellent source of fibre, which can help alleviate symptoms.
Try swapping fizzy drinks for still water and replace fatty foods with lean meats and seafood. Ginger is also a natural anti-inflammatory so it’s worth adding this to your dishes where you can. You’ll find lots of free reflux-friendly recipes and ideas online.
How can a pharmacist help
For relief from heartburn and other symptoms of acid reflux, there are over-the-counter medications that you can buy online. There are three main types of medication.
- Antacids such as Rennie tablets, that counteract the acid in your stomach
- Alginate-containing antacids like Gaviscon, that stop acid from leaving the stomach
- Proton-pump inhibitors such as lansoprazole, omeprazole, and pantoprazole
Proton-pump inhibitors, like omeprazole from Post My Meds, work by suppressing the enzymes in your stomach that release acid. This type of medicine travels through the digestive system slowly so it remains active in the stomach for a long time. One tablet is enough to relieve symptoms for up to 24 hours.
Our pharmacists can advise you on the type and brand of anti-reflux medication suitable for you. They will ask you questions about your symptoms, other conditions you have, and any regular medication you take. For online orders placed before 4pm on weekdays, we will dispatch your omeprazole the same working day by first class mail.
The next steps
If you’re suffering from persistent or severe symptoms of acid reflux, then you should see your GP to rule out any underlying causes. Things to look out for include losing weight for no reason, frequent vomiting, or food getting stuck in your throat.
Most people will experience bouts of acid reflux at some point in their life, but changes to your diet and lifestyle, combined with effective over-the-counter medications, can help make life more comfortable. Our team is here to help, so for advice and guidance call or visit us in store.