The new year is here! For most, this is considered a new decade. (If you aren’t sure what you believe, Forbes.com published a fun scientific perspective on the topic.)
Now that we are almost a week in, how are those resolutions going? Where is reflux on the list, and what have you resolved to do about it? As we know from personal experience, anecdotal evidence, and published medical research, many times reflux is a disease of lifestyle choices, or behavior. Once the behavior is corrected, so is the reflux. (Of course this isn’t always the case, so keep reading and we’ll get to that).
Here are our top 3 reflux resolutions, which happen to be the most common behaviors to cause reflux: diet, exercise, and sleep.
Eating too much often leads to discomfort, as your stomach is distended and your digestive system cannot cope with the large intake of food. The sheer amount of food eaten is often enough to sacrifice the integrity of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and leads to reflux.
Historically, there have been some foods blacklisted for those who experience reflux, but trigger foods can be vastly different from one person to the next. Furthermore, new research is showing reflux has little to do with what you’re eating and more to do with how you’re eating it! Some of the most common reflux-triggering foods are chocolate, alcohol, coffee, fried or fatty foods, peppermint, spicy foods, and carbonated beverages.
If you’re looking for a more direct answer on what to eat, recent research suggests a Mediterranean diet might be the best option for controlling reflux. The study looked at 184 patients and found no significant difference in reflux symptom index reduction between patients treated with alkaline water, a plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet, and standard reflux precautions vs those treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPI) and standard reflux precautions.
Diet changes can be extremely difficult to initiate and maintain, so if you’re not ready to make a change in what you eat, another thing to try is practicing mindfulness when eating. By simply paying attention to every bite you eat and thoroughly chewing your food, you (should) end up eating less, and keeping your body more calm while eating. Give it a try and see if your reflux improves!
Exercise can be a double edged sword, when it comes to reflux. If you have reflux and aren’t already exercising, rushing straight into a vigorous exercise program, possibly triggering reflux (and possibly dangerous, so please, talk to your doctor first). Low to moderate impact exercise, such as walking, yoga, and swimming, can all be beneficial in helping you lose weight, improve digestion, and reduce reflux.
Together, diet and exercise help reduce excess weight, reducing pressure on the stomach, which lowers the likelihood of reflux events.
Proper sleep is critical to so many areas of health, and its relationship to reflux is multi-faceted. Lack of sleep is linked to overeating, and it’s usually not vegetables. Less sleep means more wake time, more wake time means more eating opportunities. When you aren’t getting the sleep you need, your appetite regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin, get completely out of balance. Sleep deprivation drives ghrelin, which sends you straight to the kitchen, or worse, the drive-through.
Weight regulation aside, many reflux-sufferers experience more nocturnal episodes, which affects sleep quality. When the body is flat, we lose the magic of gravity keeping stomach contents in their place. If the LES isn’t fully functional (or just having a bad night), one is more prone to reflux. If you experience reflux at night, try sleeping upright in a recliner or elevating the head of the bed, and always try sleeping on your left side.
Good sleep has plenty of other benefits too, including brain health! Get those zzzz’s and you’ll see yourself start to shed some pounds, reduce reflux, and think a little more clearly.
If you have successfully implemented and sustained the common reflux behavior changes and are still experiencing reflux, several medical interventions exist. Starting with a pH test will provide objective data about your condition, helping arrive at an effect treatment plan sooner. More on that here and here. Sometimes lifestyle changes are simply not enough and you may need prescription therapy or other intervention. Stretta Therapy is an effective, non-ablative radio frequency treatment for reflux that falls between drug therapy and surgical intervention. Talk to your doctor to determine what is the best course of treatment for you.
Good luck and happy new year!
SOURCES + SUGGESTED READING