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How to help acid reflux: Diet and lifestyle tips to support Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

What helps acid reflux naturally? In this article, Nutrition Expert Ingrid Kitzing outlines some key diet and lifestyle tips on how to help acid reflux.

What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?

GERD is one of the most common gastrointestinal issues. It happens when the acidic contents of the stomach reflux up into the oesophagus. The delicate tissue of the oesophagus is not supposed to come into contact with stomach acid so symptoms such as inflammation in the oesophagus, heartburn, regurgitation, dental erosion, chronic cough and sore throat can occur. 

This can happen for a number of reasons: issues with the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) causing it to relax, too much pressure from the stomach and too much or too little stomach acid. The question of whether too much or too little stomach acid is at fault is ongoing within the scientific community.

Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) are the class of medications used to treat GERD. They are designed to reduce stomach acid secretion. Whilst they help to protect the digestive system in many situations, when it comes to the long-term treatment of heartburn, it’s less clear that the advantages outweigh the side effects. They were initially recommended for short term use but it’s now common for people to stay on them for years. Long-term use has a number of potential side effects including lowering magnesium, leaving the stomach more susceptible to infection, malabsorption of B12, iron and calcium and an increased risk of bone fractures. A further issue is that PPIs are hard to withdraw from and many people have problems with rebound levels of stomach acid when discontinuing PPIs.

Whether or not you take a PPI, research shows there are many dietary and lifestyle interventions that may help acid reflux naturally:

Dietary tips to help acid reflux

Make sure you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. An Iranian study found a significantly protective association between fruit consumption and risk of GERD. Those with the highest intake of fruit AND vegetables combined had a lower risk of GERD.

An array of green fruit and vegetables.

Avoid overeating as this will put extra pressure on your lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) and may increase symptoms. Many people find it helpful to eat three evenly sized meals rather than two smaller meals and one larger meal in the evening.

Avoid trigger foods. These vary from person to person but can include citrus (fruits and juices), coffee, tomatoes, chocolate, peppermint, garlic and onions. Fatty, spicy or fried foods can also be problematic. If you experience acid reflux, it may be worth keeping a food diary and observing your own responses to work out your triggers.

A photograph of a piece of paper with the title 'Food diary' on a desk, with a pen next to it and an apple.

Aim to finish your evening meal three hours before you go to bed to reduce the risk of reflux. A 2022 study linked short-term intermittent fasting with improved symptoms of both regurgitation and heartburn. In addition, a regular post-dinner walk is associated with less reflux symptoms.

Avoid carbonated beverages. It is thought that the carbon dioxide in the drinks leads to increased pressure on the LES valve. 

Lifestyle tips to help acid reflux 

Consider IQORO – a medical device that has good results for reflux treatment. It can be prescribed on the NHS or purchased online. Just a few minutes daily use helps to strengthen the muscles between the mouth and stomach. Research shows that regular use can help with symptoms of GERD.

Raising the head of the bed seems to help reflux symptoms. This can be done by using a wedge pillow or adding bed blocks (20-28cm) under the legs at the head of the bed. A combination of the two can also be used. One small study found that sleeping on the left side with an elevated head position reduced acid exposure.

A person lying down in bed on a wedge pillow.

Stop smoking. It’s well known that smoking increases the risk of GERD but what happens when you stop? Research shows that stopping smoking is associated with improved GERD symptoms in individuals with a normal BMI on regular reflux medication.

Avoid alcohol. Although research is slightly conflicting, there seems to be some evidence of an association between alcohol consumption and the risk of GERD. It’s not completely clear if this is a direct effect of alcohol or due to its association with other harmful behaviours, as alcohol may encourage other behaviours that could increase the risk of acid reflux/GERD, such as smoking, binge eating and late-night eating. Why not try reducing your alcohol intake and see if your symptoms improve?

Chewing sugar free gum for 30 minutes after meals can help reduce postprandial GERD. Research shows that it stimulates saliva production which increases swallowing frequency and therefore improves acid clearance from the oesophagus. 

Think about ways to reduce stress. Many studies show a link between high stress and symptoms of reflux. Stress has a huge impact on the digestive system so incorporating stress reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, breathwork and walking in nature may be helpful.  

A couple jogging outside together in nature.

If you are overweight, losing weight is likely to help as obesity is a strong risk factor for GERD. The risk seems to increase with increasing weight. A 2022 randomised controlled diet intervention study in overweight older adults found that replacing simple carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates helped to reduce reflux symptoms. Whilst larger studies are needed, switching from white bread, rice and pasta to wholegrain or brown versions will also benefit other areas of your health so definitely worth a try.

Warning in a circle with a green border

If you’re having symptoms of heartburn or reflux that do not improve with these measures or you have any of the following concurrent symptoms, please consult a health professional for further assessment:

  • chronic cough

  • persistent regurgitation/vomiting

  • blood in your vomit

  • bloating

  • difficulty swallowing

  • nausea

  • hoarse voice

  • unexplained weight loss

  • black sticky stools

  • an unexplained lump in your abdomen

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For more health and wellbeing tips to support you on your wellness journey, download the free Evergreen Life app today.

Reviewed by:

Anna Keeble MA BA Head of Content and Wellbeing Expert

Dr Claire Marie Thomas MRCGP DFSRH DTMH DipNLP MBChB BMedSci Medical Expert

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Picture of Ingrid Kitzing

Ingrid Kitzing

Ingrid Kitzing is a nutrition expert here at Evergreen Life. She trained as a Nutritional Therapist at The College of Naturopathic Medicine, and is passionate about helping people bring healthy and nutritious food into their lives.