Oh, it’s happening again. Out of seemingly nowhere, you get horrendously nauseous – and feel the relentless churning of your just-eaten lunch in your stomach. It’s almost like your whole body is in a state of rebellion. The entire unpleasant ordeal (finally) ends off after an impossibly long 5 minutes. But not without leaving you with a burning sensation in your chest and throat, of course. Sounds familiar? Then you must have heard of acid reflux; because that's the name of the condition that's sneaking up on you at the most inopportune of times.
The proper name for acid reflux is gastroesophageal reflux (GER). As implied by its name, GER happens when some of the acid content of your stomach (i.e., a strong acid known as hydrochloric acid) flows up into the esophagus and into the food pipe, which moves food down from the mouth (1). Sounds painful already, right? Well, guess what? That’s not even the worst part of having acid reflux.
The hidden health dangers of acid reflux
Over time, chronic acid reflux – also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – can cause damage to the esophagus, including precancerous changes, or lead to respiratory issues like laryngitis, asthma, and even pneumonia (2, 3, 4)! This explains why millions around the world are taking a medley of 'acid reflux drugs', including antacids, acid blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), to manage their symptoms … doesn’t it? Note: many of these drugs do indeed bring about short-term relief to acid reflux symptoms.
But research shows that there’s a dark side to many of these drugs. Just how dark, though? Take, for instance, this recent 2019 study published in The BMJ (5). Researchers pored through all medical records available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs between mid-2002 and mid-2004. Their findings? They came away with the conclusion that long-term PPI use (i.e., over many months or years) is associated with a 17% higher death risk. That’s scary. So. Now that acid reflux drugs are off the table, what can you do to safely – yet effectively – manage this nasty condition?
#1: Lose weight (if overweight or obese)
Studies consistently show that acid reflux occurs more frequently among individuals with a high body mass index (BMI) or obesity (6, 7). While scientists aren't exactly sure of the reason behind the association, they speculate that excess fat around the abdominal area puts pressure on the stomach. This, in turn, translates into additional pressure on the gastroesophageal sphincter: a ring of muscle that acts as a valve that lets food into your stomach and prevents it from coming back up into the esophagus (8). Think about what all this pressure means for a second. Yep, you got it. An increased chance of this all-important 'stopper' failing – naturally leading to the regurgitation of stomach contents into the esophagus.
Ready for some good news? You don't have to lose massive amounts of weight to experience relief from acid reflux symptoms. In overweight people, research shows that achieving even a modest amount of weight loss can significantly decrease the condition's frequency (9, 10, 11). And when it comes to that, you already know that you'd need to eat an overall healthy diet – and keep physical activity levels high. If you're already doing those, perhaps you could consider boosting your weight loss effort by supplementing with Dr. Danielle’s Alpha Lipoic Acid. A 2017 review of studies found that participants who took alpha-lipoic acid (in a range of doses from 300 to 1,800 mg daily) saw greater weight loss than those who'd received placebo pills (12)!
#2: Avoid eating close to bedtime or overeating
Always sneaking in those slices of pizza just before bedtime? Yeah, try not to do that. Late-night eating is never a good idea if you suffer from acid reflux. Lying in your bed right after your meal forces the contents of your stomach closer toward the gastroesophageal sphincter – once again, increasing the chances of this ‘valve’ failing to perform its function (i.e., preventing your meal from coming back up your digestive tract) (13). In addition to avoiding eating anywhere between 2 to 4 hours before turning in for the night, you should also steer clear of overeating during mealtimes. There are 2 reasons for this.
The first (and most obvious) is that overeating causes your stomach to expand beyond its normal size. And that translates into unwanted stress on your gastroesophageal sphincter. The second reason? It’s that the amount of hydrochloric acid your stomach produces depends on the amount of food it needs to work through: the more you eat, the more hydrochloric acid you can (typically) expect (14). But of course, sometimes, there are situations where you can’t help but overeat (e.g., at family gatherings or parties). In cases like this, you can fall back on Dr. Danielle’s Digestive Enzymes. These enzymes help lessen your body's 'digestive work'– potentially decreasing the amount of hydrochloric acid your stomach produces and, thus, the likelihood of the acid flowing back up into your digestive tract (15, 16).
#3: Give up smoking
Smoking tobacco is terrible for your health. Every year, 480,000 Americans die from smoking, and millions more are living with a smoking-related illness (17). If you smoke, these statistics probably aren't new to you. Here's one more reason to quit (especially if your acid reflux symptoms bother you): research shows that, over time, smoking can decrease the 'strength' of your gastroesophageal sphincter (18, 19, 20, 21). In other words, it's unable to close tightly – further increasing the likelihood of food and stomach acids flowing back into your esophagus. What's more, cigarette smoke also increases the production of stomach acid by triggering inflammation in the lining of your stomach. It's a double whammy.
However, trying to quit smoking is a daunting aspect, especially when it's already such an in-built part of your everyday life (e.g., pick-me-up morning smokes and smoke breaks with colleagues during lunch). This is further complicated because it turns out that nicotine may be as addictive as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol (22). Ready to hear about the silver lining? Tobacco is challenging, but not impossible, to quit. Consider this heart-warming statistic, for instance: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3 out of 5 adults who’ve ever smoked cigarettes have managed to kick the habit (23).
While there's no single method to quit smoking that's right for everyone, you could consider going down the route of quitting abruptly – but with the help of NRT. Studies show that this approach significantly increases your chances of abstaining from smoking in the long run instead of quitting gradually (24, 25). Oh, and you definitely shouldn’t forget about giving your liver some much-overdue tender loving care after all those years of abuse. So, go ahead … treat it to some of Dr. Danielle’s Liver Assist.
#4: Adopt stress management techniques
Ever noticed how your symptoms of acid reflux tend to act up at the worst times – like before an important client meeting or performance review session? It’s not your imagination. According to studies and surveys, stress is a well-known trigger for acid reflux (26, 27, 28). That said, it’s still debatable as to how – exactly – that happens. Scientists still can’t determine if stress could indeed increase your stomach’s production of stomach acid. Regardless. One thing they’re sure of is that stress could intensify your perception of symptoms (i.e., make you physically more sensitive to slight increases in acid levels).
As such, learning how to manage stress could help you deal with your acid reflux symptoms. For your reference: some of the simplest (and evidence-based) ‘stress busters’ include exercising, meditating, getting adequate sleep nightly, and deep breathing (29). You could also consider supplementing with ashwagandha – one of the most time-tested herbs out there that’ll help you get your zen back in record-breaking time (30, 31). Psst: that’s why the formula of Dr. Danielle’s Stress Lift features this ancient Ayurvedic herb!
#5: Avoid trigger foods
You probably know best about how your body reacts to specific foods. So, one of the things you could do is keep an 'acid reflux journal' – where you record the foods you eat and the degree of acid reflux you experience after eating.
That said, in the process of pinpointing which foods are causing the most trouble, you’re likely to rack up a whole lot of inflammation in the gut. To soothe your gastrointestinal tract, consider supplementing with Dr. Danielle’s Gut Assist; it contains L-glutamine, which has been shown to improve the growth and survival of intestinal cells even during stress, and aloe vera, a natural soothing remedy that can help improve even IBS symptoms (33, 34, 35).
Don’t be afraid to seek medical help
Are your acid reflux episodes getting more persistent despite making all the relevant lifestyle changes (e.g., losing weight and quitting smoking)? Then it's probably time to visit the doctor. You just want to rule out the possibility of dealing with something more serious, like hiatal hernia (i.e., a condition where a small part of your stomach bulges through a hole in your diaphragm), Barett’s esophagus (i.e., a condition where your esophageal cells begin to look like your intestinal cells), and esophageal cancer.