Diet and Lifestyle Changes in the Treatment of GERD

June 11, 2009
Many simple changes in diet and lifestyle may make GERD symptoms less severe.

Certain foods and medicines may make GERD worse. Caffeine relaxes the valve that guards against reflux, as do alcohol and smoking. Fatty foods make the stomach empty slower, leaving the contents there longer and providing more opportunity for reflux. Spicy foods can irritate the esophagus directly, just as pepper can irritate other sensitive body parts, such as the eyes. Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes and cola drinks simulate stomach acid in the esophagus and may cause heartburn despite taking medicines to reduce stomach acid. Orange juice and tomatoes are the two most commonly mentioned problem foods for GERD sufferers. Peppermint and chocolate also can make reflux symptoms worse.

Chewing gum stimulates saliva production, which, when swallowed, may neutralize acid in the esophagus. Unfortunately, it also causes air swallowing and belching with a tendency for gastric contents to follow.

Eating a large meal stretches the stomach and the valve guarding the esophagus, making reflux more likely. Lying down after a meal may encourage gastric contents to come back up the esophagus, as well. Lying on the left side usually is better than the right side, or, as we say "Left is right and right is wrong". Propping up the head of your bed on 4-6 inch blocks may reduce nighttime symptoms.

Finally, anything that applies pressure to the stomach, such as tight clothing, frequent bending or straining, or being overweight will increase reflux.

In summary, avoid problem foods and work toward eating smaller, comfortable meals. Control your weight and don’t eat late in the evening or close to bedtime.