Acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which is a more scientific way to describe heartburn, affects 50 percent of Americans. While heartburn suggests you just ate a pizza that bothered you, GERD is when food, acid contents, bilious material or pancreatic juices travel back up into your esophagus, causing trouble more than twice a week, says Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist in Chesapeake, Virginia.
The acid solution that splashes up into the esophagus causes inflammation, irritation and scarring, which can narrow the circumference of the esophagus. Symptoms include hoarseness, food getting stuck, burning, irritation, nausea, coughing, wheezing, asthma symptoms and eroded tooth enamel. It also increases your odds of esophageal cancer.
Getting to the root of the problem is the most important step. People who are overweight or older tend to be affected more since abdominal fat interferes with esophagus function, and the esophageal sphincter, which prevents backsplash, weakens with age. And many of the best things in life can relax the sphincter, including chocolate, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and greasy, spicy and fatty foods, so those are things to avoid.
Dr. Jamie Koufman, professor of clinical otolaryngology at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of the New York Medical College and author of "Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook and Cure" offers some practical lifestyle tips to get you started: Quit smoking, don't wear clothing that is too tight, don't exercise right after a meal, don't lie down right after eating or eat within three hours of bedtime, and elevate the head of your bed if you're a nighttime refluxer.
Here are some of the best natural home remedies to try for the occasional bout of acid reflux. As with any remedy, consult your doctor before adding any of these solutions to your response, especially if you experience heartburn or GERD more frequently.
Losing extra weight may help ease symptoms of reflux. (Photo: Rostislav_Sedlacek/Shutterstock)
1. Lose weight. A study published in the journal Obesity found that participants who lost 10 percent of their body fat experienced improved acid reflux symptoms.
2. Embark on an anti-reflux diet, which means eliminating all those yummy vices above. "Don't get too excited; it only makes a difference for about 30 percent of people," Raymond says, joking that "the problem with the diet is that we find most people would rather die than be on that diet for the rest of their life."
3. Drink two ounces of unprocessed aloe vera juice daily. A study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that aloe vera may provide a safe and effective treatment for reducing the symptoms of GERD, including heartburn, food regurgitation, flatulence, belching, dysphagia, nausea, vomiting and acid regurgitation.
4. Start your day with water and stay hydrated during the day, especially after exercise, which can be a trigger for some people who experience heartburn, according to WebMD.
5. Try a half teaspoon of baking soda in a half cup water, recommends WebMD. It's not tasty, but it's an effective homemade antacid.
6. Take 1 to 2 teaspoons daily of apple cider vinegar. It's great mixed with honey in tea or instead of lemon in tea. "Many people mistakenly believe all acid reflux and indigestion is caused by an overproduction of acid. The latest research shows it's actually the opposite for many people: There is too little acid produced to adequately digest the food eaten," says Christina K. Major, holistic nutritionist and naturopathic doctor in Trevorton, Pennsylvania. However, Medical News Today warns that apple cider may have the opposite effect on some people. The risk of taking apple cider vinegar is minimal for those with mild symptoms, however, so try a small dose right before or right after a meal to see how your body reacts.
7. Eat an apple before or after problematic meals. Apples are one of a few types of food that may help improve symptoms, according to Medical News Today, which referenced a small study published in Gastroenterology Research and Practice. Other foods having this effect included potatoes, fruits and eggs.
8. Take the herbal supplement slippery elm in capsule, powder or lozenge form, as it soothes the irritated tissues of the digestive tract, according to Mount Sinai Health System.
Several types of tea, including mint, may help ease acid reflux symptoms. (Photo: 5 second Studio/Shutterstock)
9. Chamomile tea, as well as mint or fenugreek tea, may help reduce acid reflux symptoms.
10. Chew a stick of gum after meals to increase saliva production, which research shows can reduce acid levels in the esophagus and may aid in preventing GERD, according to WebMD.