Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease – also known as GERD (or sometimes referred to as “acid reflux”) – is a common condition that is caused when stomach acid backflows into the tube found between the mouth and stomach (known as the esophagus.) To date, an estimated 5 million Canadians suffer from this chronic disease. While Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease itself isn’t considered to be life-threatening, it can become problematic and result in complications if it is left untreated – including damage to the tissue that lines the esophagus, causing inflammation and pain. In some cases, this damage can be permanent and may also contribute to esophageal cancer – although this is rare.
The most common symptom that is frequently associated with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease are as follows:
• Heartburn (described as burning or a pressure-like sensation in the chest)
• A bitter or sour taste in the mouth
• Regurgitation of foods or liquids
While less common, it is also possible to experience the following symptoms in addition to those mentioned above, such as:
• Persistent sore throat
• Hoarseness when speaking
• Chronic cough
• Lump-like sensation in the throat
• Difficulty swallowing
• Uncomfortable feeling of fullness after meals
As for what triggers episodes of GERD to occur, the most common culprits are the things that we eat. For example, tomatoes and citrus fruits (such as oranges and grapefruits) are highly acidic. These can either cause heartburn to occur or add fuel to the fire if you already have too much acid in your stomach and therefore compounding the problem. Other food-related triggers for acid reflux include things like garlic, onions, peppermint, foods that are spicy, fried foods, caffeine (such as coffee or carbonated beverages) and alcohol. While not all of these foods will be triggers for someone with GERD, and while the severity of symptoms may not be as bad for certain people with GERD who do happen to consume these foods, you may want to consider reducing your consumption level of these particular foods – or avoid them all together to prevent flare-ups from occurring.
GERD also isn’t just about the types of foods you eat. How much you eat, and when, can also be two contributing factors. For example, when you overeat, you develop a feeling of fullness which puts significant pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter – which is responsible for keeping stomach acid from going where it shouldn’t. One way to prevent this is by eating smaller portions of food more frequently as opposed to large meals – and to eat to the point where you feel comfortable as opposed to feeling like you’ve eaten too much. It’s also important to avoid eating food late at night. This is because, in the evenings, the concentration of acid in your stomach is much higher. When you’re laying down lounging on the couch or in bed, it’s also much easier for acid to make its way up into the esophagus. For those reasons, you should try your best to avoid late-night eating. There are certain foods you can eat, however, that are actually known to help prevent acid reflux. For example, apples, blackberries, carrots, and kale. Apples are high in fibre – and fibre is associated with less reflux; while blackberries contain healing compounds that can help protect the esophagus, and carrots and kale both contain important tissue-repairing nutrients such as beta-carotene. In order to determine which foods help vs. contribute to your reflux, I recommend keeping a food journal to take note of what you eat and any symptoms that you might develop as a result.
If you are overweight or obese, this can also increase pressure on the abdomen and cause strain to the lower esophageal sphincter as mentioned earlier. Therefore, losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight can be helpful. In some cases, certain medications may also be to blame – particularly those used to treat high blood pressure and asthma. While you should never stop taking a medication that has been prescribed to you, it is a good idea to consult with your physician about whether or not any medications may be playing a role in your GERD flares and what can be done about it – whether it’s dosing changes, or trying something else all together.