Nutrition for Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)

More than sixty million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month and some studies have suggested that more than 15 million Americans experience some heartburn symptoms on a daily basis. Symptoms of heartburn, also known as acid indigestion, are more common among the elderly and pregnant women. Changing your diet and eating habits can help reduce the frequency and severity of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).

What Are the Treatments for Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)?

Sometimes doctors can diagnose gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD, based on a list of symptoms. However, some physicians may want you to also have tests to better assess your condition. The most common tests are a barium swallow or an upper gastrointestinal X-ray series.

In most cases, infrequent heartburn can be controlled by lifestyle changes and over-the-counter antacid medications. However, medications should only be used for a short time, and can cause unpleasant side effects. One of the most important lifestyle changes that can prevent and bring long-term alleviation of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is good nutrition.

For more acute conditions of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), it is beneficial to increase fluid intake and eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Vitamin A and Vitamin C are important to include as part of nutrition for GERD. These essential nutrients are often below normal in digestive juice of people with gastric issues. Vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that helps to fight free radical molecules, is essential and can become even lower during episode of gastroesophageal reflux since the acidic citris fruits are irritating to the condition. Fortunately, there are other non-citrus fruits and vegetables, as well as supplements, which can help you meet the recommended intake of vitamin C.

For more serious conditions, nutritionists advise the creation of a rotation diet, in which one would try different foods and see if there is any reaction to the condition. This is helpful in determining which foods should be eliminated from the diet altogether. Learning the possible triggers of your condition can help you effectively manage GERD without the use of possibly harmful medications.

What Causes Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)?

To understand gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), it is first helpful to understand what causes heartburn. Most people will experience heartburn if the lining of the esophagus comes in contact with too much stomach juice for too long a period of time. The stomach juice consists of acids, digestive enzymes, and other materials. The prolonged contact of acidic stomach juice with the esophageal lining irritates the esophagus, resulting in a burning discomfort. Normally, a muscular valve at the lower end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) serves as a gate to keep the acid in the stomach and out of the esophagus. In GERD, the LES relaxes too frequently, which allows stomach acid to reflux, or flow backward into the esophagus. Thus, we get the term acid reflux. The cause for the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter is often stress, medications, and lifestyle - primarily diet and eating habits.

Which Foods Should I Avoid?

Various foods and beverages contribute to heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The following foods can irritate the damaged lining of the esophagus:

  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Ketchup and other tomato products
  • Mustard and vinegar
  • Pepper and spicy foods

It is also helpful to avoid food and medications that decrease lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle tone. This includes chocolate. Additionally, alcoholic beverages lower LES pressure, which contributes to acid reflux; therefore excessive alcohol consumption is to be avoided.

Other foods that can trigger or worsen gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) include:

  • Carbonated and caffeinated drinks, such as cola or coffee
  • Peppermint
  • Greasy or spicy foods
  • Greasy, fried, and fatty foods

Obesity can also contribute to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Therefore, following a doctor-approved nutrition plan to reduce weight may be indicated. Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day is helpful. Also, when eating meals, do not eat 2-3 hours before sleep and avoid lying down within two hours after eating. This decreases the amount of stomach acid available for reflux, lessening your symptoms.

For more information on nutrition for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), consult a nutritionist, who is a health professional that is specifically educated in adjusting diet for various health conditions, and who will be able to help you get the best results from your nutritional changes.

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD, is a physical condition in which during the digestive process, acid from the stomach flows backward up into the esophagus, or swallowing tube. People will experience heartburn symptoms when excessive amounts of acid reflux enter the esophagus. Many describe heartburn as a feeling of burning discomfort, located behind the breastbone, that moves up toward the neck and throat. Some people experience the bitter or sour taste of the acid in the back of the throat. The burning and pressure symptoms of heartburn can last for several hours and are often worsen after eating food.

All of us may have occasional heartburn. However, experiencing heartburn twice a week or more for weeks or months on end, having frequent regurgitation of food into the throat or mouth (with or without heartburn), or lack of relief of symptoms by over-the-counter medicines are indicators of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD makes you prone to acid reflux and can, over time, cause damage to the esophagus.

One may also experience wheezing and coughing with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This can happen when acid travels backward up into the throat and then spills over into the windpipe and down into the lungs. This can also cause chest pain and pain upon swallowing. Additionally, burping or belching may occur as one tries to relieve the buildup of acid or gas.

What if Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Symptoms Persist?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has a physical cause, and may not be alleviated by these nutritional changes alone. If you are using over-the-counter medications two or more times a week, or are still having symptoms while using prescription medicines, you need to see your doctor. If results are not forthcoming, additional medications can be used to neutralize acid, increase LES tone, or improve gastric emptying.

Additional Resources

Additional information on GERD from medlineplus.

Information on GERD from the American College of Gastroenterology.

The American Dietetic Association is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.

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