Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and Acid Reflux Lifestyle Changes

GERD/GORD and Acid Reflux: Lifestyle Changes

Gastroesophageal reflux or acid reflux is the flow of stomach contents back into your esophagus. Occasional reflux is common, but with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD/GORD), it lasts longer and irritates your esophagus.

Managing GERD often includes prescription and/or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. There are also several lifestyle changes that may help relieve symptoms of GERD. They are:

  • Weight management

  • Smoking cessation

  • Dietary changes

  • Optimal sleep position (for those with nighttime symptoms)

  • Cautious use of medicines

Weight Management

Carrying extra weight and gaining weight both increase the risk of developing acid reflux and GERD. Excess weight is also a factor in worsening symptoms. Consequently, weight loss is a significant part of treating GERD - it can reduce and even eliminate symptoms.

Smoking Cessation

Smoking is considered a risk factor for GERD. Smoking cessation, on the other hand, reduces the risk.

Diet & Food Triggers

GERD treatment guidelines don’t actually include recommendations to eliminate all foods that are linked to GERD symptoms, nor is there a special GERD diet.

However, there are foods that may trigger or worsen your acid reflux symptoms - you should avoid those foods that you’ve identified as triggers. If you are unsure, keep a food diary to record the foods you eat and any symptoms that follow.

There are also some foods that are protective and can help prevent symptoms. Try to include these foods in your diet.

Protective Foods

If you have certain foods in your diet, they can help prevent reflux symptoms. They include high-fiber, water-rich, and high-alkaline foods and drinks.

High-Fiber Foods

Fiber helps you feel full or less hungry, which makes it less likely that you’ll overeat. Overeating increases the chance of acid reflux. Some high-fiber foods are:

  • Vegetables: asparagus, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, sweet potatoes

  • Chickpeas, lentils, nuts

Water-Rich Foods

These foods help to dilute and weaken stomach acids.

  • Herbal, ginger tea

  • Broth-based soups

  • Melons, like watermelon

  • Celery, cucumbers, lettuce

High-Alkaline Foods

These foods help to weaken stomach acids.

  • Bananas

  • Beets

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Collard greens

  • Cucumber

  • Kale

  • Pears

  • Spinach

Here are some suggestions for foods you can substitute for those that trigger your acid reflux symptoms.

Food Substitutes

Timing

In addition to staying away from foods that trigger reflux symptoms and including those that help prevent them, the following may also help:

  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Instead of three meals a day, eating smaller amounts throughout the day makes it less likely that you’ll overeat.

  • If you have nighttime symptoms, wait at least 2 to 3 hours after eating before going to bed - whether it’s a late dinner or a large snack. In other words, avoid lying down after eating. A small snack (without foods that trigger symptoms) is okay.

Sleep Position

Your sleep position can help lessen GERD symptoms at night.

Elevating Your Upper Body

Instead of lying down, elevate your upper body. You can use a wedge-shaped pillow, mattress device, or special bed. Avoid using pillows to elevate your head only. This can actually increase pressure on your stomach and worsen reflux symptoms.

GERD laying positions.

You can also elevate the head of your bed at least 6 to 8 inches using wood or plastic risers or cement blocks.

Sleeping On Your Left Side

Sleep on your left side if you’re a side sleeper. Research shows sleeping on the right side results in more symptoms in people with acid reflux. As with elevating the head of the bed, left side-lying is thought to decrease the risk of stomach acid irritating the esophagus.

Medicines

Many different medicines can cause heartburn, irritate the esophagus or worsen GERD symptoms. The following table contains some of the common ones.

Talk With Your Doctor

If you have acid reflux or GERD/GORD, ask your doctor if any of the medicines you take, prescriptions, over-the-counter, and supplements, can affect your symptoms.

They may recommend that you change the amount of, or what time you take the medicine. They may also recommend that you stop taking the medicine and prescribe something different. However, don’t stop taking your medicines without checking with your doctor.

Medicine That May Worsen GERD

*Note: The brand name examples are available in the U.S.

Help To Prevent Symptoms

The following measures help prevent worsening heartburn and esophageal injury due to your medicines:

  • Take all of your medicines with 8 ounces (237 mL) of water.

  • Don’t take any medicines while lying down.

  • Wait at least 30 minutes to lie down after taking medicine.

  • Take your medicine with food, unless your doctor or pharmacist tells you otherwise.

For More Information

Quit Smoking

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoke-Free. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://smokefree.gov/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Be Tobacco Free. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://betobaccofree.hhs.gov/

Weight Management

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (2017). Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-loss Program. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/choosing-a-safe-successful-weight-loss-program

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Losing Weight. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html