Acid Reflux: What It Is, Why It Happens and Steps to Relief
Do you remember the last time you experienced heartburn or acid reflux? The unpleasant burning sensation and discomfort are probably hard to forget, and chances are you reached for the nearest antacid to get relief. But what if there were a more natural way to feel better? Or, better yet, to prevent that discomfort from happening in the first place? You may not realize it, but simple changes in diet and lifestyle often go a long way toward avoiding acid reflux symptoms. Before we get to those, let’s take a look at what the term acid reflux means.
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux, also called acid indigestion, occurs when stomach contents travel backward up into the esophagus—which connects your throat to your stomach. This can be accompanied by a burning sensation in the chest, which is known as heartburn.
What is GERD? Is it the same as acid reflux?
GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. The different names can get a little confusing, especially since acid reflux is sometimes referred to as just “gastroesophageal reflux”. However, while the two conditions are similar, they are not exactly the same. Unlike occasional heartburn or acid reflux, GERD is more severe, with heightened symptoms that occur more frequently and last longer.
Signs and symptoms of acid reflux and GERD
Acid reflux symptoms are easy to identify: the feeling of food (or stomach acid) backing up into your esophagus, and heartburn. GERD symptoms, on the other hand, can be more complex. They may include:
- pain in the chest or abdomen (especially at night)
- nausea and/or vomiting
- pain or difficulty swallowing
- sore throat, hoarseness
- halitosis (bad breath)
- trouble breathing (coughing, wheezing)
- feeling like there’s a lump in your throat
How does diet impact acid reflux?
Diet and nutrition play an important role in healthy digestion. Learning what foods and beverages to avoid is one of the most important steps we can take to prevent occasional acid reflux symptoms.
Foods and beverages to avoid:
- fried or fatty foods
- processed foods high in refined sugar
- spicy foods
- acidic foods (tomatoes, citrus fruits)
- garlic and onions
- caffeinated beverages (such as cola, coffee)
- carbonated drinks
It is also important to take the time to adequately chew your food, giving the enzymes in your saliva plenty of time to begin the process of breaking down the foods you eat. In addition, try to avoid the following: eating when you are feeling stressed or upset, eating too close to bedtime, and/or lying down or bending over after eating a large meal.
Common causes of acid reflux
We talked about dietary choices, but there are also several other factors that may trigger symptoms of acid reflux. These include being overweight, taking certain medications and smoking. Other causes include pregnancy, hiatal hernia, previous surgery and preexisting health conditions.
Important lifestyle tips that may help prevent acid reflux include:
- Getting plenty of exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
Natural remedies: diet and nutrition
Just as there are foods and beverages that are known to trigger acid reflux symptoms, there are also those that may help prevent them. Adding more of these foods to your daily diet can support healthy digestive function and reduce the chances of experiencing reflux.
Foods and beverages to enjoy:
- Healthy fats
- Most veggies
- Oats and other high-fiber whole grains
- Non-citrus fruits
- Lean meats
Probiotics and acid reflux
When searching for natural acid reflux remedies and preventative therapies, a daily probiotic supplement such as Renew Life® Ultimate Flora™ Probiotics can support a healthy bacterial balance in the intestinal tract to promote good digestion.* Studies on adults as well as infants have shown that supplying additional good bacteria by way of supplementation helps reduce the symptoms of acid reflux and GERD by maintaining a balanced digestive environment—meaning greater numbers of beneficial to harmful bacteria in the gut.
The role of enzymes and digestive health
Digestive enzymes are proteins your body makes to help break down the food you eat into usable nutrients that are absorbed from the digestive tract and used throughout the body. Some foods, including many fresh fruits, also naturally contain enzymes, so you may be thinking, “If my body makes enzymes and they’re in my food, why would I need to take more?” Good question. The answer has a lot to do with what and how we eat. Heavily processed foods and even cooked foods often lack digestive enzymes, so your body may have to work harder to break down and absorb nutrients. This may cause occasional gas, bloating or indigestion. Supplemental enzymes can help prevent or reduce these discomforts to help you feel comfortable eating the foods you enjoy.*
Herbal supplements may provide relief
When occasional heartburn and acid reflux do happen, herbal supplements made with natural ingredients may help soothe the burn and provide acid reflux relief.* Heartburn Stop™ from Renew Life is a chewable digestive enzyme made with herbs, minerals and enzymes that help neutralize stomach acidity for the relief of occasional heartburn.* Soothing ingredients are added that have traditionally been used to help protect the lining of the esophagus and the stomach so you feel comfortable again.*
When to talk to your doctor
While it’s true that most Americans experience heartburn and acid reflux on occasion, ongoing issues could signal a more serious problem. If symptoms persist and you notice you are taking over-the-counter medications two times a week or more, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor. With continuing symptoms there is an increased risk of permanent damage to the esophagus and, in severe cases, a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Finally, the Mayo Clinic recommends seeking immediate medical attention for chest pain (especially if accompanied by shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain), as this may signal a heart attack.
Hope for Healthy Digestion
If you experience the occasional discomfort of acid reflux and heartburn, there are simple, natural steps you can take toward helping to prevent your symptoms and support healthy digestion. Pay attention to the foods you eat and how they make you feel, and keep these tips in mind for a healthier, happier digestive system.
Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011 Dec;62(6):591-9. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options.