Updated: Mar 27, 2022
There's nothing quite like enjoying a nice meal, only to have your chest on fire 30 minutes later!
Medical News Today defines acid reflux as "a common condition that features a burning pain, known as heartburn, in the lower chest area. It happens when stomach acid flows back up into the food pipe". Anyone who has suffered from acid reflux/heartburn (or really any gastrointestinal condition) knows how uncomfortable, inconvenient, and sometimes even crippling it can be. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, over 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn monthly, and over 15 million suffer from it daily. So if you are one of these people, you are certainly not alone.
I experienced acid reflux symptoms in my early teens and suffered from it up until I was about 20. It started just after certain meals-I didn't really see a pattern. It soon got to the point where I'd wake up in the middle of the night with my throat/chest on fire. I had to stop eating 3 hours before bed to make sure I didn't have a flare-up at night, and sleep with 2-3 pillows so that my chest was elevated to prevent a flare-up. At 14, my doctor prescribed me a medication that seemed to help for 2-3 weeks, and then the symptoms would come back. I basically spent the next two years going back and forth between various acid reflux meds like Prilosec and Prevacid, usually getting relief but sometimes still having flare ups.
Once I got to college, I started looking for more natural ways to heal my body (I was not only one acid reflux pills, but also taking a daily allergy pill). I just thought there had to be a better way to alleviate these symptoms that didn't require popping pills every day. So I researched, did some trial and error, and over the course of 6 months I was able to get off medications completely! I'm happy to say that I have not taken any acid reflux/heartburn medication since probably 2014, and I can't remember the last time I had heartburn symptoms.
I'm excited to share some of my tips and tricks for managing acid reflux symptoms, and how I got rid of mine altogether. Before we dive in, there's one crucial step you should do before trying any of these tips.
Keep a Food Diary
This is essential in identifying your "trigger foods". There are some common food triggers (including coffee, chocolate, spicy food, alcohol, tomatoes), however, every body is unique and you might have symptoms from something totally different. I recommend keeping a food diary for at least 2 weeks and noting how you feel after each meal. Knowing what you "trigger foods" are will be helpful, especially if you are trying to wean off of acid reflux medications.
I've broken my tips down into two sections-
"Preventative"- which are things I do frequently (usually daily) to prevent the symptoms from occurring altogether.
"Reactive" - which are things I do when I have a flare up.
Preventative Measures (Do These Daily)
Daily Probiotic: If you take nothing else from this blog post other than implementing a daily probiotic into your routine, I will be happy! This has worked wonders for me. I take mine at night after my last meal.
Turmeric: I take either turmeric tablets or cook with turmeric daily. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a very powerful anti-inflammatory. There have been studies which suggest that acid reflux is caused by inflammation and oxidative stress, therefore incorporating more anti-inflammatory substances into your diet could benefit you greatly.
Mindful Eating: This is a lifestyle change that helped me immensely with my symptoms. In today's world, we are always on the go and a lot of the time we are not eating mindfully. Sit down at a table when you eat your food. Put your phone away and turn the TV off. Smell your food, take small bites, chew it completely and put your fork down between bites. Mindful eating promotes better digestion (when you actually chew your food, your stomach doesn't have to work as hard to break it down) and prevents heartburn from overeating.
Intermittent Fasting: Another lifestyle change. For those who are unfamiliar, IF is simply eating during a specified window of time and fasting for the other time. The original suggested method is eating for an 8-hour window and fasting for 16 (for example, you only eat between the hours of 11-7, then fast for the rest). Personally, the 16/8 was hard for me socially and physically, so I do a modified version which is 14/10. I usually wait to eat my breakfast until 9am, and finish my dinner by 7pm. My acid reflux symptoms used to be particularly bad in the morning, but by incorporating IF I haven't had a morning flare-up in quite some time. The good thing about IF is that you can tailor it to your lifestyle- whatever time windows work for you. I've seen mixed reviews on IF for acid reflux/heartburn. Some say it works really well for them and some say it made their symptoms worse. It's worked really well for me as long as I am drinking enough water.
Reactive (Do These When You Have a Flare-Up)
Aloe Vera Juice: A natural anti-inflammatory, this is a great item to keep in your fridge. Most grocery stores carry it. It has always worked really well for me when I had heartburn.
Ginger: Although it is spicy, ginger is another incredible anti-inflammatory and known to alleviate all sort of digestive ailments. In small doses, ginger has helped me with heartburn and indigestion. When I had a flare-up, I'd turn to ginger tea- homemade is best. Just thinly slice fresh ginger and bring a cup of water to a boil. Pour the boiling water over the ginger and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the ginger, add a bit of fresh squeezed lemon juice and honey, stir and you have yourself a delicious cup of ginger tea!
Peppermint: Peppermint has been used for centuries to soothe digestive difficulties. I'm not talking about one of those sugary peppermints that you get when you leave a restaurant. Try a pure form of peppermint- pure peppermint essential oil or peppermint tea made from real peppermint leaves, without any added flavors.
Keep in mind that this list is not extensive and what works for me might not work for you. Also, please keep in mind that I am not a doctor and this should not be a substitute for medical advice, but rather a supplement to medical care. Everything in this article is based on years of research and trial/error.
As a final note, I'd like to dive into the world of heartburn medications and why I worked so hard to get off of them. The most common types of heartburn medications are antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPI's). PPI's are widely popular for heartburn, and prolonged use has been linked to kidney disease and bone loss (putting the individual at risk for Osteoporosis). A study from Washington State University at St. Louis last year even showed an association between PPI's and increased risk of death.
For me, the choice was easy- my heartburn symptoms were not slowing down (in fact, they were getting worse even though I was taking pills for them daily). I realized that the pills were just a band-aid, masking the symptom but not getting down to the underlying issue. My choice was to continue treating the symptoms, eventually putting myself at risk of even bigger health problems, or get down to the underlying problem and treat it through a few lifestyle changes.
I hope this article was helpful for you, and please pass it on to anyone who might get value from it! As always, I love to hear your thoughts, so please don't hesitate to contact me if you try any of these and let me know how it works for you.