If you want to heal from GERD, it’s important to know exactly what it is, what causes it, and what you can do about it. GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, affects approximately 20% of the population. This is actually a conservative estimate, as GERD is often be misdiagnosed and underreported.
Like most digestive disorders, dealing with the symptoms of GERD long-term leads to more than just physical discomfort. It can disrupt your life and take a toll on your mental health. It can be harmful to your confidence and self-esteem. By understanding what’s really happening in your body when you’re dealing with GERD and learning what you can do about it, you can manage your symptoms effectively.
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is chronic acid reflux. Causes of GERD include:
- Medications including some painkillers, sedatives, and anti-depressants.
- A hiatal hernia, which is when the upper stomach bulges into the diaphragm.
- Pressure on the abdomen, for example relating to pregnancy.
- Diet, especially one high in processed foods, or consuming foods you are sensitive to.
Some people are at a higher risk to experience GERD. The risk factors are:
- Difficulties with digestion/delayed stomach emptying
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Taking medications that interfere with digestion
Symptoms of GERD
The symptoms of GERD are unpleasant and disruptive. GERD isn’t something you would have my experiencing these symptoms just once, or only a few times a year. To be diagnosed with GERD, you would be experiencing mild acid symptoms at least twice a week, or moderate to symptoms once per week.
The symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease include:
- Chest pain
- Feeling food stuck in your throat
- Sore throat
- Problems swallowing
Foods to avoid for GERD
There are some foods that commonly aggravate GERD. However, it’s important to keep in mind the bio-individuality of each person. While the list of common foods is a good place to start, keep in mind that your aggravating foods might be a little bit different. Food sensitivities vary greatly from person to person.
Common food irritants for GERD include:
- Processed foods (junk foods) high in fat and salt
- Alcohol, coffee, and carbonated drinks
- Refined grain products like cookies, crackers, and some chips
- Spicy foods
- Garlic and onion
Again, this is just a list of common foods. There may be foods that you are specifically sensitive to that irritate you. Below I’ll be sharing some tips on how you can identify these foods and other natural ways you can support healing from GERD too.
Self-Healing Tips for GERD
While prescribed and over-the-counter medications (like proton pump inhibitors and antacids) can be a useful tool for GERD, they do very little to address the underlying cause. Your doctor may recommend using these to help manage your GERD symptoms, but if you don’t want to be on them long-term you also need to address your diet and lifestyle. Making changes to your diet could eliminate your symptoms completely.
Avoid highly processed foods. Foods high in fat and salt are common triggers for reflux. If you want to curb your GERD, focus on gut-friendly foods. This includes foods like ginger, bone broth, leafy greens, apple cider vinegar, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi.
Keep a food journal. Writing down your meals and recording how you feel after is an easy strategy that can help you identify your reflux triggers. You may notice that after you eat specific foods or even some categories of food you are left feeling not so great. Simply avoiding those is a great place to start.
Try an elimination diet. When encountering any mysterious digestive issues, I almost always recommend starting with an elimination diet. An elimination diet is when you eliminate groups of foods, and the slowly introduce them one at a time to evaluate tolerance. Begin by omitting foods that are commonly associated with sensitivities such as dairy, grains, soy, and nuts. You can also look into eliminate high-fodmap foods.
Reduce stress. Stress can disrupt digestion and trigger reflux, and it can also make triggered reflux work. Reducing stress is always easier said than done, but here are some simple ideas to promote relaxation: breathing exercises, reading, essential oils, going for a walk, journaling, and writing down what you are grateful for.
Take licorice root. I have recommended Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root time and again for digestive issues, and with good reason. Research and clinical studies have shown that DGL is as effective as acid-blocking drugs. It stimulates mucin production which protects the stomach lining, and can minimize indigestion and heartburn. DLG is an extract of licorice root that contains no glycyrrhizin, making it safe for people with high blood pressure.
Avoid eating close to bedtime. Eating and then laying down can trigger painful reflux. Try to eat your last meal of the day at least three hours before bed. If this can’t be avoided, try to elevate your upper body with some pillows before you go to sleep.
Exercise regularly. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are risk factors for GERD, so exercising regularly can help manage these risks. Exercising is also helpful in managing stress, which is also another risk factor.
Heal from GERD Long-Term
Chronic reflux and painful heartburn might be your normal, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to heal from GERD for good, start making changes to your diet and lifestyle. Addressing the underlying cause of your GERD is the best way to get better long-term.