Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
That fiery sensation in your chest after eating may be more than simple heartburn. It could be gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition where a muscular ring in the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter, is weakened. As a result, the flap that separates the stomach from the esophagus doesn’t close properly. This allows stomach acid to splash back into the esophagus. Over time, these highly acidic gastric juices can damage the esophageal tissues.
The key to extinguishing the fire is to find out what aggravates your GERD. Some foods are more likely to relax the lower part of the esophagus, thus allowing acidic stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus. They include chocolate, peppermint, coffee, and alcohol. Other foods sometimes mentioned as troublesome include garlic, onions, tomato-based foods, spicy foods, and fatty foods. Keep a journal of everything you eat to help identify your trigger foods and then avoid them. It’s also wise to avoid large meals since abdominal distension and bloating can aggravate symptoms. Other dietary tips to sidestep GERD include eating at least three hours before bedtime and increasing your intake of fiber-rich foods like beans and whole grains.
Certain behaviors can make GERD worse. These include smoking and overindulging in sodas or alcoholic beverages. Other habits, however, can ease your symptoms. Try sleeping on your left side. Research suggests that left-side sleepers suffer less nighttime heartburn. It’s also a good idea to sleep on an incline. Use blocks to raise the head of your bed six inches. Propping your head with pillows won’t last all night. Exercise is another smart strategy to help extinguish the burn. Taking deep breaths before meals and eating in a calm, relaxed manner also helps.
Betaine HCL: and GERD may seem like an odd couple but, even though it seems counterintuitive, many cases of heartburn and GERD result from low not high stomach acid. Without enough stomach acid, food is not properly broken down and digested. A randomized research study of 350 volunteers conducted in Brazil compared a betaine hydrochloride supplement with the popular prescription proton pump inhibitor omeprazole. All of the patients who used the betaine reported complete regression of their GERD symptoms compared to just 65.7 percent of those in the omeprazole group. Typical dosage: 650 mg taken before a meal.
Licorice: has long been used to soothe heartburn. However, it’s important to use deglycyrrhizinated licorice root [DGL], especially if you have high blood pressure. DGL protects the digestive tract from stomach acid by stimulating the production of substances that coat the stomach and esophagus. Typical dosage: Chew two tablets slowly before or between meals.
Melatonin: is a neurotransmitter produced by the brain that regulates the wake/sleep cycle. But recent studies also suggest that it may ease the symptoms of GERD. Polish researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, recruited 60 patients and divided them into two groups. Half of the patients took 5 mg of melatonin every evening; the others received a placebo. After 12 weeks, more than half the patients in the melatonin group no longer had reflux symptoms and 30 percent of the rest of the group reported partial improvement. Less than 10 percent of the patients taking the placebo reported any improvement in their symptoms. Typical dosage: Up to 5 mg before bedtime.