The effects of the condition can be reduced by avoiding certain trigger foods and following other dietary tips.
What is GERD?
When a person swallows, food passes through the food pipe to the stomach. A ring of muscle tissue called the lower esophageal sphincter contracts after allowing food into the stomach. This stops the food from coming back up into the food pipe.
GERD causes acid reflux and heartburn.
When the esophageal sphincter does not close correctly, the contents of the stomach can leak back into the food pipe, causing GERD.
When the symptoms of GERD occur more than twice a week for a period of more than 3 weeks, it is considered to be a chronic disorder.
Other common names for the condition include:
GERD that is left unchecked may lead to serious health problems such as Barrett's esophagus. In this condition, the normal lining of the food pipe is replaced with a different kind of tissue and there is a higher risk of cancer in this area.
Symptoms of GERD
For most people, GERD causes the feeling known as heartburn. This ranges from a burning feeling in the chest to feeling like food is stuck in the throat. People with GERD may also experience nausea after eating.
There are some less common symptoms of GERD as well, including:
- Wheezing or weak coughing
- Sore throat
- Voice changes
- Hoarseness in voice
- Food regurgitation
Lying down immediately after eating may make symptoms worse. For some people, the symptoms are worse during the night. People who experience the symptoms of GERD during the night may find relief by elevating their head while sleeping and avoiding meals before bed.
Diet tips for GERD symptoms
Since GERD is a digestive disorder, there is often a link between a person's diet and their symptoms. Because of this, dietary and lifestyle changes can go a long way toward treating many cases of GERD.
Foods that may worsen GERD symptoms include:
A study published in Gut and Liver looked at the relationship between cow's milk allergies and GERD symptoms in children.
Researchers found that children with allergies to cow's milk are likely to experience symptoms of GERD when drinking it. More research is needed to confirm whether this is also the case for adults.
If a person experiences symptoms of GERD regularly after eating dairy products made from cow's milk, it may be a good idea to eliminate them from the diet.
Another study, published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, explored the relationship between cholesterol and GERD.
The results indicated that people who consumed more cholesterol, saturated fatty acids, and more calories from fat experienced more GERD symptoms.
Other food flare-ups
Carbonated drinks can worsen the symptoms of GERD.
There are also other foods that some doctors recommend people with GERD avoid.
Foods that may cause GERD to flare up include:
- Carbonated beverages
- Acidic drinks such as orange juice and coffee
- Acidic foods such as tomato sauce
While there is little clinical evidence that these foods are linked to GERD, the experiences of some people with the condition suggests that these foods may make symptoms worse and should, therefore, be avoided.
However, these are conditional triggers, and they may not apply to everyone.
Foods that may help GERD symptoms
Until recently, GERD was not very well understood. There was little clinical evidence to suggest that changing the diet could change the symptoms.
A 2013 study of over 500 people found that some foods appear to reduce the incidence of GERD symptoms.
Foods that may reduce symptoms of GERD include:
- Protein from low-cholesterol sources such as tuna, salmon, cashews, almonds, and lentils
- Certain carbohydrates, found in natural fruits, vegetables, and some grains
- Vitamin C, for example in potatoes, may help to reduce symptoms
- Fruits such as berries, apples, melons, peaches, citrus fruits, and tomatoes may help
- Eggs, despite their cholesterol content, appear to reduce GERD symptoms
Fiber in the diet has been linked to fewer GERD symptoms. Researchers have noted that as people increase the levels of dietary fiber in their diet, the symptoms of GERD decrease.
The trigger-food diet
The trigger-food diet involves eliminating common trigger foods, such as coffee and chocolate, in order to reduce symptoms. These methods have little clinical backing and results vary between individuals.
A guideline published by the American College of Gastroenterology states that eliminating trigger foods is not recommended in the treatment of GERD, because the dietary connection is not simple.
The guideline suggests that, rather than eliminating foods that trigger symptoms, the aim should be to heal the digestive system.
Treatments for GERD
According to the Mayo Clinic, people can purchase over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat GERD. These include antacids such as Gaviscon, which neutralizes stomach acid.
People can also get H-2-receptor blockers, such as Zantac, which may decrease the production of stomach acid for up to 12 hours. OTC proton-pump inhibitors are stronger blockers. An individual should not use any of these medications for more than 2 to 3 weeks.
Prescription medicines include stronger acid blockers. While effective, they have been linked to vitamin B-12 deficiency and a small risk of bone fracture.
Baclofen can help to control symptoms by reducing the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, but adverse effects include fatigue and confusion.
Holistic dietary strategy for GERD
Apart from dietary changes, a holistic GERD treatment plan involves other considerations.
For many digestive issues, restoring balance to the bacterial flora in the intestines may help. Fermented foods may help to achieve this.
The bacteria on these foods are known as probiotics. Probiotics help to reduce digestive issues by balancing the digestive system as a whole.
Foods that naturally contain probiotics include:
- Raw sauerkraut
- Raw kimchi
- Raw fermented pickles
- Kombucha, a fermented tea drink
People with GERD may find that probiotic foods may help. Probiotics help to fight a bacterial strain known as H. pylori, which may be linked to their symptoms.
Other natural treatments that may help include slippery elm bark, which contains high levels of mucilage. Mucilage can coat and soothe the throat and stomach, and it may also cause the secretion of mucus in the stomach, which protects it from acid damage.
Including slippery elm bark in a daily regimen may help to treat symptoms of GERD.
Early research published in BMC Gastroenterology suggests that an oral melatonin supplement may also help to treat GERD symptoms. However, it is only recommended as part of the process, and further studies are needed to confirm these results.
Other lifestyle changes
An article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that losing weight and keeping the head raised during sleep can help to reduce symptoms of GERD.
This should be considered a step in the holistic treatment plan.
Outlook for people with GERD
Though GERD is considered a chronic disorder, it does not have to be permanent.
Lifestyle changes and medication can help. If these do not work, surgery may be used to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter.
With appropriate treatment, people with GERD can follow a normal lifestyle. Patients should always talk to a doctor before making any changes to their treatment plan.