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Ask the Diet Doctor: Strategies to Soothe Reflux

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Q: I know which foods can trigger my acid reflux (like tomatoes and spicy foods), but are there any foods or strategies that soothe it?

A: Acid reflux, heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects about one third of Americans, causing painful episodes with varying symptoms. The foods that trigger these episodes vary for different people, but there are overarching strategies—some science-based, some anecdotal—that you can try to lessen or get rid of heartburn for good.

Pay Attention to Your Sleep Quality
A review of 100 studies looking at lifestyle and diet recommendations for treating acid reflux found that how you sleep is one of the most effective ways to control symptoms of reflux—more so than any dietary modification! Sleeping with the head of your bed elevated (or your body slightly propped up if you can’t elevate your bed) will lead to fewer reflux symptoms, fewer reflux episodes, and faster stomach acid clearance.

Lose Weight
Yep, losing body fat does seem to be the cure-all for any health problem. And that’s because it works: Excessive body weight disrupts many systems of checks and balances in your body, leading to minor or major health problems, reflux being one of them. Aside from the above recommendation or taking a prescription drug (which has it own risks), losing weight is the most effective thing you can do to fight the symptoms of reflux. Bonus: If you choose to lose weight via a very low carbohydrate diet, one study showed reductions in symptoms after just six days using this dietary approach.

RELATED: Ask the Diet Doctor: Do Elimination Diets Work?

Opt for Smaller Meals
Larger meals will cause a greater filling and stretching of your stomach. This puts additional strain on the muscle that connects your stomach to your esophagus (called the LES), which increases the chances of reflex. However, it is not advisable to split your daily food intake into so many meals that you are eating nonstop, as research shows that a greater number of weekly meals is associated with more reflux events. The sweet spot? Eat three to four evenly sized meals each day. Similar sized meals are a very important part of this guideline as well, since eating three small meals and one large meal won’t benefit you.

Supplement with D-lemonene
Found in the oils extracted from citrus peels from lemons and oranges, D-lemonene is a powerful antioxidant that can be used to treat reflux. Because it is found in such small amounts in citrus peels and most of us don’t eat the peel, in order to get an effective dose of D-lemonene you will need a supplement. In one study, participants took 1,000mg of D-lemonene and after two weeks, 89 percent of study participants were free of reflux symptoms.

Chew Non-Peppermint Gum
Chewing gum causes your mouth releases additional saliva, which can help neutralize and balance excessively acidic stomach pH, but you’ll want to avoid peppermint-flavored gum. A 2007 study published in Gastroenterology found that peppermint can reduce the tone, or strength of contraction, of the LES. This muscle needs to be contracted so that stomach acid doesn’t go up to your esophagus, which increases the likelihood of reflux and the associated pain.

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