Acid reflux is a common condition that happens when stomach acid backflows into your esophagus. Many people experience occasional heartburn, but when it occurs on a regular basis, your condition may warrant medical treatment. Persistent acid reflux is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Experts estimate that approximately 20 percent of people in the United States suffer from GERD.
Acid reflux is caused by a weak or damaged lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Your LES is designed to keep stomach acid within your stomach and prevent it from flowing backward into your esophagus. However, if your LES is weak or damaged, stomach acid will leak into your esophagus and cause heartburn. Additionally, if your stomach overproduces acid, the acid is more likely to leak out of your stomach and cause reflux.
Common acid reflux symptoms include:
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Trouble swallowing
- A sour or metallic taste in your mouth
If you experience these symptoms regularly, we recommend that you speak with your doctor and dietitian. There are various over-the-counter and prescription medications available to treat GERD. However, there are also natural remedies that may help control your acid reflux. We discuss these remedies below.
Avoid Triggering Foods
Modifying your eating habits will play a significant role in minimizing your reflux symptoms. In fact, dietary changes are often the first lines of defense in treating acid reflux.
Certain foods are known to trigger excess acid production and/or relax your LES, contributing to reflux symptoms. Avoiding, or at least limiting, these foods will help you find relief.
- High fat foods, including fried foods, high-fat meats, creamy sauces and dressings, processed snack foods, high-fat desserts, pizza, full-fat dairy products, oily and greasy foods, and butter
- Acidic fruits and vegetables including citrus fruits, pineapple, kiwi, and tomatoes
- Garlic and onions
- Spicy foods
Eat a Well-Balanced Diet
While certain foods trigger reflux, others help relieve it:
- Alkaline fruits and vegetables, including bananas, melons, and cauliflower neutralize stomach acid.
- High-fiber foods, including oatmeal and other whole grains, sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables all help relieve reflux while improving digestive health.
For more details on foods to include in your diet and why, read our Best Foods for Acid Reflux blog.
Ginger is a naturally alkaline and anti-inflammatory food, which makes it a great treatment for acid reflux. Sip ginger tea or add sliced ginger root soups, salads, stir-fries, or smoothies. Chewing on dried ginger may also help relieve symptoms but be sure to check the label for added sugars, which should be limited for overall health.
Current research suggests a maximum daily dose of 1500 milligrams of ginger as it is possible to overconsume ginger.
Drink Herbal Teas
While alcoholic, caffeinated, and carbonated beverages may trigger reflux, herbal teas may help relieve symptoms. Decaffeinated, herbal teas also help improve digestion.
Licorice and chamomile teas are often used to relieve acid reflux symptoms. Additionally, green tea, fennel tea, and fruit teas may also be helpful. However, some herbal remedies may interfere with medications prescribed by your doctor, so consult your medical team before starting any supplements.
Experts also recommend eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day with the biggest meals in the morning and midday. This helps to prevent having a full stomach late into the night when you are more likely to lay down.
More specifically, stop eating within two to three hours of laying down to go to bed. When your body is horizontal, it is easier for your stomach acid to flow back into your esophagus and cause reflux symptoms. Allow your body time to fully digest your last meal or snack before you lay down for bed, a nap, or to watch a show.
If you are struggling with reflux symptoms during the night, elevating the head of your bed or adding a wedge-shaped pillow may help reduce your symptoms and improve your sleep quality.
Studies show that acid reflux occurs more often in individuals who have body mass indexes in the overweight or obese categories. Excess body weight may increase pressure in your abdomen and make it more likely for stomach acid to flow backward into your esophagus. A well-balanced, high-quality diet will help manage both your weight and your reflux.
Stress and anxiety worsen acid reflux. Stress increases muscle tension within your body, which places pressure on your stomach and pushes its contents backward into your esophagus. Anxiety both increases stomach acid production and decreases the pressure on your LES, which allows excess acid to leak into your esophagus.
While it is natural to focus on the discomfort you feel from the reflux, the increase in stress and anxiety that come from focusing on it are likely to make the problem worse.
Stress-relief activities such as breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, meditation, and/or yoga will help control stress and anxiety while working to alleviate symptoms.
To better understand your own trigger(s) better, keep a log of the foods you eat and the symptoms you experience. After you have a few weeks of data, look for patterns in what you are eating and how you are feeling. This exercise provides insight into your personal triggers, and helps you identify which foods make you feel better or worse. You can also review this with your doctor or dietitian for more insight.
Among other negative health effects, smoking triggers acid reflux. Smoking decreases the pressure on your LES, which makes acid more likely to travel backward into your esophagus. When you quit smoking, the pressure on your LES will normalize and improve your reflux.
Smokers are not the only ones at risk. Secondhand smoke may also increase acid reflux symptoms.
The Bottom Line
Acid reflux, whether occasional heartburn or persistent GERD, is uncomfortable. However, there are many simple, affordable, effective natural remedies for acid reflux. Managing your diet, weight, stress, and other lifestyle factors will help you find relief from your symptoms.
If you are looking for more specific guidance to find your best eating pattern, our team of dietitians and nutritionists is here to help you build the acid reflux diet that can improve and even eliminate your heartburn symptoms!
Liz has been reading nutrition labels since she learned how to read. Growing up with severe peanut and tree nut allergies she learned that it’s important to know what you are putting into your body. She made her first big lifestyle change as a freshman in high school, when she decided to become a vegetarian. However, it wasn’t until she took a food class in Italy as part of a study abroad program in college that it clicked in her mind that she wanted to make food and nutrition her career. Liz graduated from Penn State University in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in Nutrition, as well as a bachelor's degree in Marketing. She completed her dietetic internship with Aramark in Philadelphia, and her master's degree at Northeastern University shortly after.