Reflux: 5 Ways to Banish the Burn (Without Meds)

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Sixty percent of the adult population will experience issues with acid reflux at some point in their lives. Of that number, up to 30 percent will have weekly symptoms. That equates to a lot of people in a lot of pain. This pain is often treated with medications like antacids, H2 blockers or PPIs. With recent research indicating some serious long-term side effects for some of these medications, patients are looking for other ways to deal with their reflux.

Here are five ways to reduce your reflux without medication:

Lose weight

According to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, excess weight is a risk factor for the development of acid reflux disease, since abdominal fat puts undo pressure on the stomach, possibly causing symptoms. That means losing added weight can really benefit a person with acid reflux and may even improve symptoms.

No clue where to start? What I tell my patients is that the best diet is one where the majority of calories are from whole foods like lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains. Limiting processed foods, which contain a lot of unhealthy fats and sugar, can really help get you on the path to permanent weight loss. Determining how many calories you should be eating and tracking food though an app like MyFitnessPal can also be really helpful.

While a proper diet can account for as much as 80 percent of weight-loss success, don’t forget that you also need to exercise. Start slowly and gradually build up to longer workouts. Exercise doesn’t need to be a crazy gym routine, as brisk walks can do the job, too.

Avoid trigger foods

Not everyone will react the same way to foods but you can better determine what is causing your own symptoms by keeping a journal. Some of the classic triggers for acid reflux include: chocolate, citrus, tomato, spicy foods, high-fat meals, large meals (being overly full) and carbonated beverages. Alcoholic beverages and peppermint can also relax the LES, leading to more reflux symptoms.

I had one patient who could not figure out what was triggering her reflux. After journaling, she found that her symptoms were worse when she chewed gum. It turns out that the sorbitol in the gum was seriously aggravating her symptoms. Once she stopped chewing gum, her GI tract calmed down.

Eat smaller, more frequent meals

Smaller, more frequent meals can help banish the burn by keeping your stomach from becoming overly full. The more food in your stomach at one time, the greater the likelihood that some of those stomach contents will splash up into your esophagus. Five or six small meals ranging from 300-500 calories (depending on how many calories you need to eat in a day) are usually limited enough to help prevent reflux that might be caused by being overly full.

Try a natural remedy

Natural remedies have come a long way, baby Scientists are spending more and more time investigating these treatments to provide more alternatives to their patients. Some of the natural remedies that have shown promise include: probiotics, slippery elm bark, chamomile or ginger tea and even just the basic baking soda-in-water trick. Check out my article, Natural Remedies For Acid Reflux: Updated, for more information on these natural remedies. However, keep in mind that natural remedies, even herbals, are not FDA regulated and have not been tested in vigorous scientific studies.

Keep an empty stomach within 2-3 hours of laying down, if you have overnight reflux symptoms.

Make positional changes

Positional changes are a simple trick to help limit acid reflux symptoms. Remaining upright after a meal or sleeping with the head of the bed elevated allows gravity to keep stomach contents where they belong. Lying on the left side also seems to promote better digestion in some people.

Please note that any changes to your medications or treatment plan should only be done with your physician’s approval. There are instances where the benefit of medications outweigh any potential risks. Talk to your doctor about which changes will work for you.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.