About 25% of people regularly experience heartburn symptoms – a number that is low because it only represents those who report problems to their doctor. In 2020, Americans spent nearly $5 billion on pain relief medications.
When chronic, it is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux.
“The most common symptoms of GERD are heartburn and regurgitation, when your stomach contents back up into your esophagus,” says Jeffrey Kwan, MD, gastroenterologist at PACT Gastroenterology Center and the Digestive Health Program of Hartford HealthCare.
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How it works?
The esophageal sphincter is a muscular tube that lets food pass into the stomach, then closes to keep it from coming back up. It works to protect the esophagus from stomach acid. However, if the sphincter relaxes, food can push up through the loosened opening and cause acid reflux.
The worst culprits
Foods commonly known to be heartburn triggers cause the esophageal sphincter to relax and delay the digestion process, letting food stay in the stomach longer. These include:
- Fast food.
- Potato chips and other processed snacks.
- Chilli powder and pepper (white, black, cayenne).
- Fatty meats like bacon and sausages.
- Tomato-based sauces.
- Citrus fruits.
- Pepper mint.
- Fizzy drinks.
Kwan says being overweight is a risk factor for developing GERD. He notes that while knowing that certain foods can trigger acid reflux, everyone is different. “Some patients don’t have food triggers,” he adds.
What can I do to prevent acid reflux?
Kwan advises patients to eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, elevate their head when sleeping, and not eat within three hours of bedtime. He says if patients follow all of these guidelines and still experience symptoms, there are medications ranging from over-the-counter to prescription strength that can help.
Additionally, certain foods can help prevent acid reflux.
- Whole grains like rolled oats, couscous, and brown rice.
- Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.
- Green vegetables like asparagus, broccoli and green beans.
- Broth-based soups.
- Herbal tea.