After enjoying a spicy meal at your favorite restaurant, you may suddenly experience a burning sensation in your esophagus, bloating in your stomach, and a scratchy throat. In search of a solution, you purchase cherry-flavored antacids at a nearby drugstore. However, the discomfort persists until (after chewing several antacids) you finally find relief.
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Nearly one-third of adults in the United States regularly experience heartburn and acid-reflux symptoms.1 The heartburn industry depends on millions seeking relief from post-meal discomfort. Despite the temporary relief antacids offer, however, they can cause more harm than good.
What Is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux happens when your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) temporarily relaxes, allowing stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus.
The LES is a muscle at the junction of the esophagus and stomach that controls the movement of food and liquids from the esophagus to the stomach, preventing them from going backward.
When you swallow, the LES opens to allow food and drinks into the stomach. Then it closes tightly to prevent stomach acid and partially digested food from moving back into the esophagus.
If the LES weakens, it may not close tightly enough, causing acid and other stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus, which can result in that burning sensation you feel. Over time, this can progress into GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
Acid reflux is typically a short-term, occasional problem that can be triggered by overeating, certain foods, or lying down too soon after eating. It can cause symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, and occasional discomfort.
In contrast, GERD is a more severe and chronic form of acid reflux that sometimes includes chest pain, difficulty swallowing, chronic cough, and hoarseness
. These symptoms can worsen after eating or lying down.2,3
The Role of Stomach Acid and Antacids
Your stomach contains hydrochloric acid (HCl), which helps digest food, especially proteins. Adequate HCl is vital for activating enzymes like pepsin that break down proteins into smaller parts that your body can use, like amino acids.
But if you have acid reflux or heartburn, stomach acid can come up into your throat, causing discomfort. To ease these symptoms, people often use antacids, or medicines that reduce stomach acid quickly. While they can offer quick relief, that relief comes at a cost:
- Antacids lower stomach acid, which can make it harder for enzymes like pepsin to do their job properly. This might mean that your body doesn't digest proteins as well as it should.4
- Antacids can slow down the process of moving food from your stomach to your small intestine. This can increase the chances of acid coming back up into your throat.5
- Lower stomach acid can also make it easier for harmful bacteria to grow in your stomach.6
- Antacids might make it harder for your body to absorb important nutrients like vitamin B12, potentially leading to nutrient deficiencies.7
Antacids temporarily relieve acid reflux symptoms but don’t address the root cause. Over time, they can even make your body produce less stomach acid, which can make things worse.
It might seem strange, but having too little stomach acid (not too much) can actually cause acid reflux. Stomach acid helps break down food, especially proteins, into smaller pieces that your body can handle. Keeping the right balance of stomach acid is important for good digestion.8
9 Ways to Naturally Reduce Acid Reflux
Instead of relying on antacids and medications, you can manage heartburn and indigestion naturally.9 Here are nine simple strategies to help:
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight is a significant risk factor for GER and GERD symptoms.10 Excess body weight can create pressure that pushes stomach contents into your esophagus. It can also weaken the LES, making it less effective at keeping stomach acid in your stomach.
A protein-first meal plan that includes healthy fat and fiber can help stabilize blood-sugar levels, support hormone balance, and optimize energy levels, all of which will help you find and maintain your healthy weight.
A protein-first approach means you get 30-50 grams of protein at every meal. Don’t guess how much protein you’re getting. My Protein Cheat Sheet provides a list of foods containing 30-60 grams of protein to make it super easy, and you can download it for free.
2. Watch What You Eat and Drink
Certain foods and beverages can trigger acid reflux by relaxing the LES or irritating the esophagus.11 Keep a food journal and take special note of these common triggers to see if they’re impacting you:
- Fatty foods
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Tomatoes and tomato-based products
- Spicy and heavily seasoned foods
- Mint and peppermint
- Carbonated drinks
- Onions and garlic
- Bell peppers and hot peppers
- Processed meats
- Highly acidic foods like vinegar and vinegar-based products (such as pickles)
- Certain types of beer with higher carbonation levels
3. Be Smart About Hydration
I'm all about drinking enough water. However, for some people, too much liquid during meals may contribute to GER and GERD. Pay attention to your intake and how you feel after meals, adjusting your liquids during meals accordingly. 12
4. Reduce Your Sugar Impact
High-sugar-impact foods can cause acid reflux.13 Sugar can also upset the balance of good bacteria in your gut, leading to gut imbalances or dysbiosis.14
You can break free of sugar addiction without going cold turkey! My Sugar Impact Diet provides everything you need to gradually eliminate sugar (including sneaky sugars that sabotage your success).
5. Eliminate Food Intolerances
Food intolerances like soy and gluten can worsen acid reflux symptoms in people sensitive to these foods.15 They can lead to inflammation that weakens your LES. Food intolerances can also slow gastric emptying, causing food to stay in your stomach longer. Increased pressure in your stomach makes it more likely for stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.
6. Eat Mindfully
Slow down and savor your meals to reduce the risk of heartburn and acid reflux. Remember that it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to recognize that you’re full, so take your time!
7. Supplement With Digestive Enzymes
As you get older, your body produces fewer digestive enzymes and less stomach acid. A supplement that contains betaine HCl (a source of hydrochloric acid or stomach acid) can support the digestive process, reducing the likelihood of undigested food and gastric contents flowing back into the esophagus.16
Protein First Enzymes is a powerhouse formula that works for anyone who needs digestive support to help break down and absorb food. We’ve combined a priority blend of digestive enzymes with Betaine HCl for comprehensive digestive support.*
8. Prioritize Sleep
GERD and sleep problems often go hand in hand. Research shows that melatonin can improve sleep quality and alleviate symptoms of GERD.17 Aim for around eight hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep every night.
The Optimal Sleep Kit contains three supplements (melatonin-containing Sleep Candy™, Magnesium Body Calm, and All-In-One Shake) that help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep through the night, and wake up feeling rested.*
9. Manage Stress
Chronic stress can relax the LES more than usual, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.18 Stress-reduction techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help manage acid reflux.
Take Ten Stress Support is a uniquely formulated product that provides gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a key neurotransmitter in the body involved in a normal, calm stress response. This synergistic formula also supplies other calming nutrients including glycine, niacinamide, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6.*
Food Intolerance and Acid Reflux: A Vital Connection for Better Digestion
Antacids and other medications can mask more deep-seated issues. Acid reflux can sometimes signal a more significant problem related to food intolerance. When your body can't completely digest food, such as gluten, those foods can stay in your stomach and potentially increase acid reflux.
Addressing food intolerance can help alleviate acid reflux symptoms, support digestion and gut health, and improve overall health.
The 21-Day Breakthrough Food Intolerance Cleanse is a self-paced online program with all the tools and resources to help calm inflammation from hidden food sensitivities, lose fat, reclaim your health, and feel energized and better than ever. You’ll get 12 in-depth video lessons, weekly meal plans, and shopping lists featuring delicious and balanced fat-burning recipes, a body measurement and symptoms tracker, guides for dining out and making healthy swaps, and access to our exclusive Facebook group.*
- Cedars-Sinai: Acid Reflux Affects Nearly a Third of U.S. Adults Weekly
- Antunes C, Aleem A, Curtis SA. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. [Updated 2023 Jul 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441938/
- Pisegna J, Holtmann G, Howden CW, Katelaris PH, Sharma P, Spechler S, Triadafilopoulos G, Tytgat G. Review article: oesophageal complications and consequences of persistent gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2004 Dec;20 Suppl 9(Suppl 9):47-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2004.02240.x. PMID: 15527464; PMCID: PMC6736593.
- Science Direct: Stomach Acid – an overview
- Salisbury BH, Terrell JM. Antacids. [Updated 2023 Aug 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526049/
- Cleveland Clinic: Hypochlorhydria (Low Stomach Acid)
- Medical News Today: Long-term antacid use linked to vitamin B12 deficiency
- Wright, Jonathan V. and Lenard, Lane. Why Stomach Acid is Good for You. NY: M. Evans & Company (August 20, 2001)
- Bowden, Jonny. The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth. MA: Fair Winds Press (January 1, 2008)
- El-Serag HB, Graham DY, Satia JA, Rabeneck L. Obesity is an independent risk factor for GERD symptoms and erosive esophagitis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Jun;100(6):1243-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2005.41703.x. PMID: 15929752.
- Harvard Health: GERD diet: Foods to avoid to reduce acid reflux
- Healthline: Drinking Liquids with Meals: Good or Bad?
- Medical News Today: Sugar and acid reflux: What to know
- Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah: How too much Sugar Affects the Gut Microbiome
- The Functional Gut Clinic: Food Intolerance and Acid Reflux
- John Hopkins Medicine: Digestive Enzymes and Digestive Enzyme Supplements
- Bang CS, Yang YJ, Baik GH. Melatonin for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease; protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Jan;98(4):e14241. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000014241. PMID: 30681611; PMCID: PMC6358381.
- Harvard Health: Could stress be making my acid reflux worse?
The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.