Even though you may have been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), this doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy life to the fullest. Controlling your symptoms usually requires a combination of medication and lifestyle changes.
While there are a number of things you can do to soothe your symptoms—and even forget they are there—it is important to understand that you will still need to follow your treatment plan. But when you take a more holistic approach to address GERD, you may find the relief you are looking for. Below we explore the causes of GERD as well as some home remedies that may help ease your symptoms.
Causes of GERD
GERD is a diagnosed medical condition with symptoms including heartburn, acid regurgitation, and sometimes difficulty swallowing. It is more serious than gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which occurs every so often and does not always cause symptoms.
Gregory Bernstein, MD
The symptoms can be exacerbated by specific behaviors including late-night eating or overeating specific foods or substances.
— Gregory Bernstein, MD
“GERD can be caused by a laxity [weakening] at the bottom of the esophagus or from the flap valve or muscle barrier at the bottom of the esophagus,” says Gregory Bernstein, MD a gastroenterologist from Gastro Health. “The symptoms can be exacerbated by specific behaviors including late-night eating or overeating specific foods or substances.”
While heartburn and GERD are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. In fact, the heartburn you experience may actually be GERD because an estimated 18% of the United States population experiences GERD.
“Heartburn, while often used interchangeably with GERD, is a symptom typically described as a burning sensation in the chest under the sternum, often associated with specific food triggers [like spicy food, acidic food, caffeine, or alcohol] or behaviors,” explains Dr. Bernstein. “GERD is a medically-diagnosed condition and symptoms can include heartburn and regurgitation [a sensation of food or liquid refluxing backward into the chest or throat from the stomach].”
Because lifestyle factors are the most common cause of GERD, it is no wonder lifestyle changes are the mainstay of treatment and prevention. It is worth mentioning that you are more likely to develop GERD if you are overweight or obese, pregnant, take certain medications, or smoke cigarettes.
Home Remedies for GERD
When it comes to managing your GERD symptoms, it is important to adhere to your treatment plan. But, there are things you can do that will help alleviate—and possibly even prevent—symptoms. Here are so potential home remedies for GERD.
Avoid Certain Foods
Symptoms associated with GERD are often exacerbated after eating certain foods. That’s why it’s important to become familiar with the foods you should avoid that way you can prevent further discomfort. The foods that most commonly cause GERD symptoms include acidic foods, spicy foods, high-fat foods, alcohol, chocolate, carbonated beverages, and mint.
Foods to Avoid
- Citrus fruit and their juices
- Tomato-based foods
- High-fat foods including fried foods
- Spicy foods
- Carbonated beverages
While these foods may exacerbate symptoms for some people, one or more may or may not cause symptoms in others. Keep a food journal to identify problem foods specific to you.
Eat Small, Frequent Meals
Studies show that large, calorie-dense meals tend to cause acid reflux. Specifically, one study determined that the more calories in a meal, the greater the reflux event will be.
You also may notice the longer you go without eating, the worse symptoms will be. That is because fasting increases acid reflux.
So while it seems like not eating would be better than eating something skipping eating may cause symptom flare-ups. Focus on five or six small meals per day consisting of about 300-400 calories each.
Stick to Low-Fat Foods
One study looked at the effects of high-fat foods and meals on the incidence of acid reflux. Researchers found that the more fat and calories a meal contained, the worse the reflux became.
Higher fat foods also stay in the digestive system longer, making them more likely to cause acid reflux. Opt for low-fat meats, dairy, cheese, soups, sauces, dressings, and other foods. Read labels and choose foods that contain less than 10% fat per serving.
Include Fiber-Rich Foods
Foods that move out of the stomach and through the digestive system quickly are less likely to cause acid reflux. That is why a fiber-rich diet is important for the treatment and prevention of GERD.
One study looked at the effects of a fiber-enriched diet on esophageal sphincter pressure and the incidence of acid reflux. Researchers found that after the research period, participants who were supplemented with 5 grams of psyllium fiber daily experienced fewer bouts of heartburn, reflux, and a lower esophageal sphincter resting pressure.
The recommended intake of fiber is at least 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men per day. Choose whole grains, beans, legumes, oatmeal, fruits, and vegetables. Remember to drink plenty of water when increasing your fiber intake.
Elevate the Head of the Bed
Lying flat on your back and with a standard pillow allows acid to move up your stomach and into your esophagus more easily. Elevating the upper body with a wedge, pillow, or elevating the head of the bed can prevent this from happening.
Try putting some books under the mattress at the head of the bed or sleeping on a wedge pillow. You also may want to experiment with different sleeping positions as well to determine what works best for you.
Aloe vera is a succulent plant that contains a gel when you break the leaves. The gel is soothing and provides anti-inflammatory compounds when applied to cuts and burns. That is why it is a staple ingredient in sunburn treatment.
Aloe vera juice has been widely used to reduce acid reflux. Recent research was performed to investigate the effects of aloe vera juice on acid reflux compared to over-the-counter medications. Findings suggest that aloe vera is safe and effective at reducing GERD symptoms with no adverse side effects.
If you plan to try aloe vera juice, talk to a healthcare provider first. People who are pregnant, taking blood thinners, or taking medications for diabetes should not use aloe vera.
If your healthcare provider indicates it is safe for you to use, choose decolorized and purified aloe vera juice. Start with a 1-tablespoon dose per day mixed with water.
Practicing breathing exercises daily has been shown to help alleviate GERD symptoms. The mechanism behind this is likely the result that the breathing exercises have on reducing the pressure on the esophageal sphincter and the enhancement of the anti-regurgitation barrier.
Perform abdominal or diaphragm breathing exercises for 5 to 10 minutes, three to four times per day. Start by placing one hand over your chest and one hand over your stomach.
Take a deep breath into where your stomach moves but the hand on your chest does not. Imagine the air moving in lower in your belly rather than in your chest.
Smoking and second-hand smoke are associated with GERD. In a study following just under 200 patients with GERD, 141 total patients achieved smoking cessation and 50 did not.
Those who were able to quit smoking saw a 44% improvement in GERD and the frequency of reflux symptoms significantly decreased. Plus, the health-related quality of life improved for those who successfully quit smoking only.
If you are a smoker, it is never too late to quit smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers support and resources for those who are ready to begin their journey.
When to Contact a Healthcare Provider
Dr. Bernstein recommends the use of over-the-counter acid-reducing meds including antacids such as Tums, antihistamines (famotidine), or proton pump inhibitors (omeprazole) along with lifestyle changes. However, you should contact a healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:
- Symptoms occur more than 1 to 2 times per week even with OTC medication,
- Symptoms persist for 2 to 4 weeks, even with OTC medication.
- Symptoms are associated with alarm symptoms like trouble swallowing or dysphagia.
- Symptoms are accompanied by unintentional weight loss.
A Word from Verywell
Lifestyle changes along with care from a healthcare provider are the mainstays of GERD treatment. While home remedies include lifestyle changes, they may not always be enough to provide relief from GERD symptoms.
Make sure you work with a healthcare provider on a consistent basis to manage your condition. Left untreated GERD can lead to a number of health issues.