About 25% of people experience heartburn symptoms regularly – a number which is skewed low because it only accounts for those who report issues to their doctor. In 2020, Americans spent almost $5 billion to alleviate their symptoms.
When chronic, it’s known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), an acid reflux condition.
“The most common symptoms of GERD are heartburn and regurgitation, when the contents of your stomach come up into your esophagus,” says Jeffrey Kwan, MD, a gastroenterologist with PACT Gastroenterology Center and Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health program.
How does it work?
The esophageal sphincter is a muscular tube that lets food pass into the stomach and then cinches shut to block it from coming back up. It works to protect the esophagus from stomach acid. However, if the sphincter relaxes, food can push upward through the loosened opening and cause acid reflux.
The worst culprits
Foods commonly known to be heartburn triggers cause the esophageal sphincter to relax and delay the digestive process, letting food sit in the stomach longer. These include:
- Fried food.
- Fast food.
- Potato chips and other processed snacks.
- Chili powder and pepper (white, black, cayenne).
- Fatty meats such as bacon and sausage.
- Tomato-based sauces.
- Citrus fruits.
- Carbonated beverages.
Kwan says that being overweight is a risk factor for developing GERD. He notes that while knowing that certain foods can trigger acid reflux, everyone is different. “Some patients have no food triggers,” he adds.
What can I do to prevent acid reflux?
Kwan counsels patients to eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, elevate their head when they sleep, and not to eat within three hours of bedtime. He says if patients are following all those guidelines and still experiencing symptoms, there are medications ranging from over the counter to prescription strength that can help.
Additionally, some foods can help prevent acid reflux.
- Whole grains such as oatmeal, couscous and brown rice.
- Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.
- Green vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and green beans.
- Broth-based soups.
- Herbal tea.