Most of us have experienced acid reflux from time to time, when stomach acid travels up toward the throat causing a burning feeling in your chest (heartburn) or a horrible taste in your mouth. But when it happens repeatedly, it's called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, and it can damage the sensitive lining of the esophagus, leading to other symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, a 'lump-in-the-throat' sensation and ulcers.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like omeprazole are the usual treatment, but as you've discovered, they can come with nasty side-effects. Some of the more serious ones linked to the drugs include bone fractures, potentially fatal infections and even heart attacks.1 Plus, around one-third of GERD patients still suffer from symptoms despite taking PPIs.2
There are plenty of natural alternatives, though. Hopefully, one or a combination of these evidence-based remedies will work for you. Ideally, consult with an experienced naturopath who can offer personalized advice based on your symptoms and lifestyle and monitor your progress.
Find your food triggers
Certain foods and drinks may worsen GERD, such as chocolate, fatty foods, alcohol, carbonated drinks, caffeine, cow's milk and mint-flavored products,3 so avoiding these could help. It's also a good idea to keep a food and symptom diary to see if you can spot any connections between the two. If some foods seem to bring on symptoms, try eliminating them to see if there's an improvement.
Try a low-carb diet
A recent study found that a high-carb diet caused more reflux symptoms in GERD patients, while a low-carb diet had the opposite effect.4 Consider consulting with a nutritionist who can work out the right type of low-carb diet for you. Or see WDDTY April 2016 for the diet that worked for one sufferer. Whatever you do, avoid low-carb processed foods and opt for real, nutrient-dense whole foods instead.
Stress has been linked to GERD, although it's not clear whether it's the stress that's causing the symptoms or the symptoms causing the stress.5 Either way, stress-reduction methods such as meditation, yoga or qigong might be beneficial.
If you're overweight, losing weight might help resolve your symptoms. And if you smoke, quit—smoking is another risk factor for GERD.6
A supplement containing melatonin, vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin B12 and the amino acids l-tryptophan, methionine and betaine was more effective than the PPI omeprazole for treating GERD symptoms in one trial. After 40 days, all patients taking the supplement were free of symptoms (and side-effects) compared with two-thirds of those taking the PPI.7
Suggested dosages: 2.5 mg melatonin, 200 mg vitamin B6, 10 mg l-methylfolate (the more bioavailable form of folic acid), 50 mcg vitamin B12, 25 mg l-tryptophan, 100 mg methionine and 100 mg betaine (these are the dosages used in the study above). Melatonin is only available via a prescription or the internet in the UK, but you can buy it over the counter in the US
Chewing gum for one hour after a meal could help ease GERD symptoms for up to three hours.8 Avoid the usual sugar- or artificial sweetener-packed gums, though, and choose a healthier option instead, like Chewsy (www.chewsygum.co.uk) or Wild Gum (www.wildgum.com).
Exercise your abdominals
Abdominal breathing exercises appeared to help GERD patients in one small study.13 They may work by actively training the diaphragm—a muscle important for preventing reflux. Here's a simple exercise to try:
•Place one hand on your abdomen with
the other hand on your chest.
•As you breathe in, try to push the air into the abdomen so that the hand on your abdomen rises while
the hand on your chest stays still.
•Practice this for a few minutes every day.
Opt for acupuncture
This ancient Chinese technique is safe and effective for GERD, according to a recent review of the evidence, and has been found to boost quality of life in sufferers.9 You can find a qualified acupuncturist near you via the British Acupuncture Council (www.acupuncture.org.uk) or the Acupuncture Now Foundation (www.acunow.org).
Go for aloe
Aloe vera, known for its soothing effects, may help relieve GERD symptoms. In one study, aloe syrup was just as effective as the anti-reflux drugs omeprazole and ranitidine for reducing a variety of symptoms including heartburn, food regurgitation, belching and nausea.10 Check out last month's Healthy Shopping for our pick of aloe gels you can drink.
Consider Chinese herbs
Traditional Chinese herbal medicine has proven effective for GERD.11 One study found that a decoction of herbs known as jiangni hewei, made up of fresh ginger, Pinellia, clove, Agastache (hummingbird mint) and hematite—was as effective as the PPI omeprazole, but caused no adverse effects. Plus, symptoms were less likely to return in those taking the herbal remedy.12
Contact the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture UK (www.atcm.co.uk) or the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.aaaomonline.org) to find a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner near you.
Quick tips for reflux
• Avoid lying down within three hours of having a meal.1
• Elevate the head of the bed to prevent symptoms during sleep.2
• Exercise regularly, but avoid more jarring activities such as rowing or running, which can make symptoms worse, especially straight after eating.3
Did you know?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the most common gastrointestinal disease in both Western and Asian countries.1