Nutrition Notes What if I Have...

What if I have GERD?

April 20, 2015

Have you heard of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also called acid reflux, is a chronic condition where liquid from the stomach backs up (refluxes) into the esophagus, which is a hollow tube that connects the throat to the stomach (your food tube!). GERD is prevalent all over the world, and about 18-28% of the United States population have GERD.

There are a few factors that can contribute to GERD such as lower esophageal sphincter abnormalities. The sphincter is a muscular ring that acts like a dam between the esophagus and the stomach. It opens up when you swallow to allow food into the stomach and then it’s squeezed tight to prevent food and acid in the stomach from backing up into the esophagus. When stomach acid does make it’s way back into the esophagus it can cause burning and inflammation. Another factor can be hiatal hernias. When there is an internal body part that pushes into a place that it doesn’t belong, that’s called a hernia. A hiatal hernia is when the stomach pushes up into the diaphragm which can lead to heartburn.

A few of the most common symptoms of GERD are difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), heartburn, and increased salivation and belching. Individuals can seek nutrition therapy for GERD which is unique to each person and the goal of it, is to reduce the acidity of the fluid that is formed within the stomach as it digests food (gastric acidity), and to help discover foods that worsen the symptoms. That way, the individual can avoid those food items to prevent any discomfort – because eating should be enjoyable, and not an activity in our life that we’re afraid of.

Here are a few tips that may help an individual with GERD:

  1. Eat smaller, more frequent meals: Larger meals tend to stimulate more acid production and may delay stomach (gastric) emptying which can increase the risk of reflux. To help eat smaller portions at home, reach for your smaller plates/bowls to serve your food on as we often times feel the need to fill up our plates fully. Sometimes, our eyes are hungrier than our stomachs. In addition, try chewing slower to help your body register when it’s beginning to feel full which can help to also keep your meals smaller.
  2. Discover foods that may increase your stomach acidity: This may take some time and may also range from person to person. Listen to your body and pay attention to times when you feel symptoms of GERD occurring after you’ve eaten something, as that may be a food item you’ll want to remember and avoid in the future. Some of the most commonly suggested foods to avoid for individuals with GERD are pepper (black and red), alcohol, and coffee (decaffeinated and caffeinated).
  3. Try and avoid foods that may relax the lower esophageal sphincter: Within the pool of GERD research, there are some foods that have been shown to relax that muscle that opens and closes to let food in your stomach and to stop stomach acid from coming out of your stomach. These foods are peppermint or spearmint, chocolate, fried foods and foods that are high in fat, and coffee and alcohol, as well.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight: Individuals who are overweight who have GERD have experienced positive impacts when they have lost weight. They have experienced an overall improvement of GERD symptoms, so talk with your doctor about your GERD and how it may relate to your weight. 
  5. Keep you upper body lifted after eating a big meal: This has also been shown to help reduce GERD symptoms, and individuals are often times encouraged to not lay down after eating a big meal which might make it easier for stomach fluids to flow back into your food tube, the esophagus.
  6. Reduce your stress levels: Many health concerns can arise from stress, especially when the stress is constant or has increased quite tremendously in our life. For us, it’s important to locate what is causing us stress in our life, and if it’s in our control, we’ll do our best to tackle it head on. For other things, it’s best that we find ways to have fun and relax. Exercise is one of our favorite ways to de-stress so we can sweat out the tension. Dedicate time to do what you love that relaxes and nurtures you.

Again, the specific foods that may increase the symptoms of GERD can vary from person to person. Someone may not be able to eat spicy food, but can enjoy citrus foods no problem and another person may find that spicy food sits well with them, but that citrus foods are a trigger. If you’re looking to conquer the mystery food triggers for you, start to note which foods may feel like they increase the feeling of heartburn or nausea, and learn to limit the amount you eat of that food — think of fun ways that you can replace them!

1. DeVault K, Castell D. Updated Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Vol 100, 2005, pp 190-200.
2. Nebel T O, et al. Symptomatic Gastroesophageal Reflux: Incidence and Precipitating Factors. The American Journal of Digestive Diseases. Vol 21(11), Nov 1976, 953-956.
3. Hampel H, et al. Meta-Analysis: Obesity and the Risk for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Its Complications. Annals of Internal Medicine. Vol 143(3), 2005, 199-211.
4. Demeester T, et al. Patterns of gatroesophageal reflux in health and disease. Annals of Surgery. Vol 184(4), Oct 1976, 459-470.

Disclaimer: Abbey Kitchen is not providing medical advice in the place of a doctor; Abbey Kitchen researches and analyzes scientific literature based on health topics to provide evidence-based tips and information.

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