Relieving GERD

By Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Photo by Dreamstime

Have you ever experienced eating a large, fatty or spicy meal and a couple of hours later start to feel an unrelenting burning in your throat? Perhaps you may be experiencing GERD or Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease. This burning sensation is a result of stomach acid flowing back into a relaxed opening between the stomach and your mouth called the esophagus.

Normally, when you swallow your food, a muscle called the sphincter tightens so that the food will not flow back into your throat. But in some people, this muscle may relax after a meal. When you lie down, the food mixed with acid may spill into your throat and cause the burning. Other symptoms may include chest pain, a dry cough, nausea, vomiting, hoarseness or a dry throat, difficult time swallowing or feeling like there is a lump in your throat. In extreme cases, teeth erosion may also occur.1

Obesity, pregnancy, smoking, asthma, diabetes, delayed stomach emptying are some of the factors that increase the risk of GERD.

What can you do? There are over-the counter medications available to help relieve the symptoms. Talk to your doctor to find out which ones work the best for you. If the condition is serious, your doctor may recommend other treatments.

In the meantime, maintaining a healthy weight could help minimize or get rid of the symptoms altogether. Wear loose clothing to keep from agitating your stomach and esophagus. Eat smaller meals and don’t lie down after eating. Sometimes, bending over can cause symptoms.

Avoid spicy and high fatty foods because they may irritate the esophagus. Fried foods, tomato sauce, garlic, caffeinated beverages, chocolate and mint are some of the common foods that can irritate the esophagus. If you smoke, quit. Cigarette smoke can help keep the sphincter from doing its job.2 

Sometimes, GERD sufferers may find relief by using herbs and other natural therapies. Licorice, slippery elm, chamomile, peppermint, and ginger have been recommended but the research is not strong for these remedies. Probiotics have also been recommended to help reduce discomfort. Eating yogurt and other dairy products that contain helpful bacteria such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and L. acidophilus may also bring relief.

If you are a GERD sufferer, don’t get discouraged. GERD is treatable and there are remedies that can help relieve symptoms.