Q: Is it just me, or does adding ginger to my diet – either in food, tea or eating a small piece each day – help with digestion and symptoms of acid reflux? I’m trying to avoid having to take Nexium, which has been linked to kidney damage, or any medication for the symptoms. What else can I do?
Kevin, Old Saybrook
A: Occasional indigestion happens to all of us, but if you experience indigestion frequently (several times during the week or daily) you may have acid reflux — also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle does not fully close (see featured graphic) allowing stomach acid and sometimes stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus.
GERD effects about 20 percent of Americans and can happen at any age. Not all GERD sufferers experience heartburn. Bad breath, burping or hiccups, cough, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea or feeling like there is a lump in your throat are also common symptoms of GERD. If left untreated, GERD can injure the esophagus, increasing your risk of respiratory conditions and even esophageal cancer.
What you can do right now:
Record what you eat and when you experience symptoms. Share this journal with your doctor and a registered dietitian so they can help you manage symptoms through diet and lifestyle.
Consider avoiding these foods because they may trigger symptoms.
- Foods that relax the LES such as chocolate, peppermint, caffeine and foods that are high in fat: fried foods, full fat milk and cheese, pastries and desserts.
- Acidic and spicy foods that may irritate an injured esophagus: citrus fruit, tomatoes and tomato products, juice, carbonated beverages, chili peppers, black pepper, onions and garlic.
Lifestyle changes that help alleviate symptoms.
- Have four or five small meals and avoid overeating.
- Eat more fiber. In this study, GERD sufferers who followed a high-fiber meal plan were less likely to experience symptoms.
- If you are overweight, losing those unwanted pounds can lessen your symptoms.
- Wait at least two hours after a meal before exercising.
- Don’t eat just before you go to bed. To alleviate nighttime symptoms, eat at least three to four hours before bedtime and raise the head of your bed six inches.
Specific foods to ease symptoms.
- Low-fat dairy such as milk, yogurt, and kefir provide calcium, magnesium, and potassium (alkaline minerals) that help balance stomach acid to ease symptoms quickly.
- Fill half your plate with dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach. These and other leafy greens are rich in symptom-fighting fiber and magnesium.
- Oatmeal and other whole grains are also rich in fiber, which binds with stomach acid to reduce symptoms.
- Ginger root is a natural remedy for heartburn and nausea. Researchers hypothesize that ginger’s effectiveness is due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties. Grate fresh ginger root into soups and smoothies and sip ginger tea one-half hour before, or after meals.
- Select foods that are baked, broiled and steamed instead of fried, pan-fried or prepared in cream sauce.
- Enjoy healthy fats that are also a good source of fiber, such as avocados, nuts and seeds.
- Snack on low-acid fruit: melons, bananas, apples and pears.