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Twelve Easy Ways to Alleviate Heartburn without Swallowing a Pill

Twelve Easy Ways to Alleviate Heartburn without Swallowing a Pill

Twelve Easy Ways to Alleviate Heartburn without Swallowing a Pill


Here are an easy dozen lifestyle adjustments that will reduce symptoms of acid reflux. I recommend you don’t do them all at once. Write out a list and think it over. Choose the two or three changes that will be easiest for you to accomplish immediately. Then every week, make a plan to add one or two more healthy improvements to your lifestyle. It’s better if you do less and stick with it than overwhelm yourself with trying to do too much.

Whatever you do, do not throw up your hands and quit if you have another attack. Think of how long you’ve endured the pain of acid reflux. It’s going to take more than a few days to return your GI system to its natural health. But you’ve suffered long enough, so let’s examine twelve easy ways to help yourself heal. 
1. Raise the Head of Your Bed
Let gravity help. You want your upper chest to be higher than your abdomen. Think about it: Most acid reflux occurs during sleep. And it’s the kind that bothers people the most. Being woken up by a sudden attack of acid reflux in the middle of the night is extremely distressing, especially when you’re in so much pain you think you’re having a heart attack. Simply propping up your head with two pillows won’t do it. That only bends your neck. Your esophagus must be elevated above your stomach and at an angle that does not put pressure on your throat.
The goal is to elevate the entire head of your bed a minimum of 30 degrees, like a hospital bed. I think the best, and safest, way to do this is to have a firm foam-rubber wedge made, which is inexpensive. Or put a brick under the legs on each side of the head of your bed.

2. Eat Less and Eat More Often

Three meals a day are not enough. Doesn’t that make you happy? On the other hand, chances are the meals you are eating are way too big. Portion control is absolutely key to resolving GERD. I want you to reduce the size of all your meals, but allow yourself more frequent snacks, and space out your food intake. Go for a modest-size breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with two small snacks in between whenever you get hungry. What’s most important is cutting down on the amount of food in your stomach at any one time. Sixty percent of gastric acid production is caused by stretching of the stomach. If you start using our Acid RefluxSolution recipes, you’ll begin to get a good idea of portion control, because they have been tailored for this purpose.
Remember in the last chapter we learned that one of the triggers for release of acid is distension of the stomach. To avoid this, practice eating only until you are barely satiated. Do not let yourself get full. Some of us are so used to shoveling in all kinds of food mindlessly—not just meals, but chips, fast food, fries, and candy, not to speak of stretching out our gut with literally gallons of soft drinks—we can’t even remember the sensation of being just perfectly satisfied.
If you think this may be one of your issues, pay attention when you eat. Some professionals use a kind of chart labeled from one to ten. The very lowest number, one, indicates that you are famished. You haven’t eaten in three to five hours, your blood sugar is low, and you’re crashing. The highest number, ten, signifies you are absolutely stuffed and could not eat another bite if you tried. Now, the idea is twofold: You don’t want to wait until you’re starving to eat; that’s just going to make you eat more than you need to. And for some people, extreme hunger can trigger an attack.
By the same token, you don’t want to stuff yourself, which will both add weight and increase acid. The key is to improve your sensitivity to hunger and satiety. Get to know your body better and what it really needs. And remember always, less food means less acid reflux. Eat only until you feel you have had just barely enough. Always leave room for a little bit more.
This is easier when you know that a tasty snack is waiting for you. You don’t have to stop eating; you just have to eat less at any one time. When planning meals, if you’d like soup or a salad first, be sure to reduce the size of your main course portion even further. And, of course, I’ve got some ideas about what you should eat, but we’ll get to that later. 



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3. Drink Before or After Meals

To minimize pressure on the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, the circular muscle charged with keeping all the acid and partially digested food in your stomach, reduce volume by drinking as little as possible with your meals. Take your beverages, preferably water or herbal tea, at least half an hour before you eat. Or wait thirty to forty-five minutes after you eat to drink. That way, your stomach won’t get distended enough to call for more acid. It’s not just the volume of what you drink; think about how the liquid affects dry foods, causing them to expand. The combination of popcorn and apple juice, for example, could blow up to three times the initial volume. Ouch! It hurts me just to think about it. Best to separate solids and liquids, just like recycling bottles and cans.
Now, I know that beverages are a loaded issue. Many Americans are used to downing literally gallons of soft drinks a day. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but if you want to get rid of your GERD, that’s just going to have to stop. For one thing, all that liquid distends your stomach, resulting in your feeling the need for more food to fill you up at mealtime and increasing the release of stomach acid. Second, carbonated beverages are a trigger for acid reflux, whether it’s soda or beer. And last, whether sugar-sweetened or sugar-free, all these carbonated drinks are associated with greater obesity—the leading cause of GERD. 

4. Chew Your Food Well

If you tend to wolf down your meals, make yourself count to a minimum of twenty with each bite. Keep in mind digestion begins in the mouth. When you chew and get a chance to really taste the food, your salivary glands secrete saliva to moisten it and form what we call a bolus, the wad of moist food you swallow. At the same time, enzymes are released that start the digestion of complex carbohydrates and some fats. If you don’t chew your food well, you skip this stage of digestion, which just makes it harder to deal with further along. The whole process of digestion involves breaking large molecules down into smaller and smaller molecules until they are tiny enough to enter the body via the gut.
5. Loosen Your Belt



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There are several other ways to remove pressure on the stomach. One is to wear loose-fitting clothes. It’s no joke. A belt that’s too tight or a waistband that cinches in your abdomen reduces the room you have for food, increasing the pressure on your stomach, which can trigger the release of extra acid. It also stresses the lower esophageal sphincter. Make it as easy as possible for everything to pass right through. No problema. What’s a smart-looking pair of sweats for, anyway?


6. Sit Up Straight


You have to consider your physical position. When eating at the table, watch your posture and sit up straight. Okay, you’ve been hearing that since you were a kid, but now it’s really important. Slouching and folding your abdomen in half is the same as wearing a belt that’s too tight. If you’re a TV watcher, make sure you don’t hunch over a coffee table to eat your dinner. Otherwise, I promise you, it’s going to come back at you sooner rather than later.

Sitting up at the table also forces you to confront your food. Look at it, appreciate it, savor it, and know that there are no seconds. What is on your plate is what you are going to enjoy, so take the time to appreciate it. 

7. Eat Slowly!


Give your digestive system a chance to work. It takes roughly twenty minutes for your body to send signals of satiety, a measure of fullness, to your brain. If you take smaller bites and have a conversation—with your significant other or your dog or cat, it doesn’t matter—while you’re eating, you will eat less in a longer time and probably enjoy it more. When you’re just shoveling in the calories while watching TV and paying no  attention to your plate, you are likely to eat far more than you should. If you allow time for the body to signal it’s comfortable and has had enough and if you pay attention to your own cues, you will naturally eat less and feel more satisfied.


8. Remember Gravity
It’s just common sense not to bend over after eating. An inverted posture invites reflux. If you drop something, leave it there; it will wait. Do your exercises beforehand. I’ll even take it a step further and recommend you don’t lie down, even if you are tempted to, for at least thirty minutes after a meal. Forget about that postprandial siesta. If eating makes you a little tired, resist the temptation to take a nap right after lunch or dinner. Instead, take a little walk, even just around the block. You will be astounded at the good that will do for your digestion.

For one thing, like shaking a sieve, the act of walking upright helps jiggle everything along, so that your meal passes through your gut physically. On top of that, the movement of your leg muscles—and your arms if you swing them—stimulates the absorption of glucose from your  food into your cells. This can help a lot, especially if you are insulin resistant or have type-2 diabetes. It’s one reason exercising helps people lose weight. 

9. Don’t Eat within Three Hours of Bedtime


For me this is the golden rule. Even if I’ve been doing really well for days—or weeks or months—if I forget myself or get carried away at a party and chow down after nine o’clock, invariably I’ll spend a miserable night suffering from acid reflux. This can be challenging for people who like to stay up late, because at a certain point you’re going to crave a midnight snack. What can I say? We all have choices to make, and this may be yours. If you get really hungry and absolutely have to eat, have a few soda crackers, just enough to take the edge off.


10. Move It or Lose It


According to the latest government recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, adults age twenty-one to eighty-one all benefit from 2½ hours of moderately vigorous exercise or 1¼ hours of vigorous exercise a week teamed with a weight-bearing exercise session twice a week. In fact, the older you are, the more you benefit. If there is any real secret to eternal youth, it’s remaining active.

Now the good news is that this requirement of thirty minutes of exercise five days a week can be accomplished in ten-minute intervals, as long as you get your heart rate up. For example, if you park your car at the far end of the parking lot at work or at the mall and walk briskly to your destination, preferably taking the stairs, you might easily get in one ten-minute session. You’ll get a second when you return to your car. So now all you have to do is be creative for the third session. And the weight-bearing exercise does not have to be weight lifting. Gardening and yoga can qualify, as long as you are stressing your muscles.

Okay, here’s the bad news. Really vigorous exercise beyond a certain point with the accompanying hyperventilation (aka panting), can actually put enough pressure on the LES so that it releases and allows a surge of acid. Marathon running, for example, is out. On the other hand, low physical activity paired with obesity has been associated with greater prevalence of hospitalization for symptoms of GERD. So I recommend strongly that you do establish some regular pattern of physical activity, but especially starting out, restrict your cardiovascular exertion to a moderate amount. If you work with a trainer, let him or her know your issues. Walk before you run.

The truth is, though, unless you are a saint or superhuman, if you’re not exercising now, it’s very difficult to start, let alone to pack in thirty minutes a day. And you are unlikely to overdo it. I know because I’ve been there. And the truth is, the heavier you are, the harder it is to move: bulk makes motion more awkward.

So here’s my advice. Take it from someone who dropped 30 pounds in the past year. Do whatever you can as long as it is more than you were doing before. Build up gradually and be kind and forgiving of yourself. Pick an activity that you enjoy, you can afford, and is easy and convenient enough that you will stick with it.

For me, it turned out to be exercising and weight lifting at a gym. And it doesn’t have to be a fancy gym. Many YMCAs have fabulous exercise programs and well-equipped weight rooms. For my colleague Susan Wyler, it was yoga. For you, it could be a walk with a friend. Walking the dog is not a good choice, because unless you have it well trained, it’s going to stop to sniff the grass every two feet, which will not do you any good. Cycling, swimming, tennis, dancing, gardening, even house cleaning are options. Anything that will make you stress your muscles and move your limbs as well as get your heart going provides beneficial physical activity.

What does all this talk of exercise have to do with eliminating GERD? Bottom line: It’s going to help you lose abdominal weight, and that lessening of pressure will relieve your heartburn.


11. Reduce Stress


Even doctors debate about how much stress contributes to digestive problems. For years, ulcers were blamed on psychological and emotional stress—until it was discovered that many ulcers are caused by bacterial infection. It’s really hard to know whether stress and acid reflux coexist with each other or whether one is responsible for the other. What I can say is that if you are stressed, you are going to be more sensitive to any symptoms you do have, and probably bothered by them to a greater degree.

In terms of acid reflux, reducing stress is, of course, most important if you are one of those people who overeats when they are nervous, or if you are someone who doesn’t eat at all when you are stressed. Because either way, it’s going to make your symptoms worse. Stuffing yourself and starving yourself can both trigger bouts of painful reflux.

Relieving stress is easier said than done, I know, especially if the problem involves work or your social life. But you can learn to manage it. I think you’ll find that taking a stand and doing something for yourself is a good first step. Look around and see what resources are available that you feel comfortable with: counseling, yoga, meditation, a ballroom dancing class, amateur theater. Anything that takes you out of yourself can help. Even talking with a friend. Sure, these recommendations are cursory and simple, but they are a good start. Find something that you enjoy and are passionate about and pursue it! It’s good for your heart, and your heartburn.


12. Quit Smoking and Cut Back on Alcohol


Now I’m beginning to sound like a preacher . Both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption cause GERD; it’s as simple as that. So it’s up to you. If you’re taking the Acid Reflux Solution seriously and you really want to get rid of your heartburn, you’ve got to stop smoking. Nicotine is a major reflux trigger—period.

Alcohol is a little more forgiving. Excessive drinking will definitely trigger reflux. But personally, I don’t see a problem with having a glass of wine with dinner if you are not in an inflammatory state, especially if you get a little food in your stomach first.

So there you have it: a dozen great ways to alleviate or even eliminate acid reflux with small physical changes and healthier lifestyle choices. But there’s one more factor that cannot be ignored: diet.




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