Maybe you grew up hearing a parent complain about constant heartburn.
Or perhaps your best friend is always popping TUMS after meals to help with her indigestion.
If you know someone who suffers from GERD and acid reflux–particularly if it’s a blood relation–you may wonder what factors can make you susceptible to potentially develop the same condition.
In this article, I’ll explain three lifestyle choices that increase your chances of developing acid reflux and what you can do to reduce your risk.
Obesity and Unhealthy Eating
Obese and overweight individuals are more likely to develop GERD or see an increase in the severity of symptoms.
The excess weight around one’s belly is one factor that causes a rise in instances of heartburn.
Perhaps it’s due to the higher amount of fatty foods that overweight people tend to consume, but according to Everyday Health, another possible explanation is that “too much fat in the abdomen compresses the stomach and raises its internal pressure, leading to acid reflux.”
The solution may seem obvious–losing weight can help you turn back your GERD symptoms.
A 2013 study conducted by the National Institute of Health measured the effect of weight loss on GERD sufferers. At the conclusion of the study, it was found that 81% of participants saw a decrease in symptoms when they lost weight.
However, as many of us know, weight loss is easier said than done.
Here are three concrete recommendations that will help jumpstart you on the path to healthy eating and a lower BMI…
- Cut out processed foods: Foods high in sugar, salt, and other artificial additives don’t do much good for your body. Instead, try to consume more whole, nutritious foods.
- Avoid foods that cause inflammation: Fried food is a huge culprit in acid reflux flare-ups. Additionally, its best to avoid acidic foods and beverages such as tomatoes, alcohol, and coffee as they increase the production of acid in the stomach.
- Increase your activity: You don’t need to start off by going to an intense TRX class at the local gym–take little steps to add more activity into your day such as opting for the stairs over the elevator or taking a 30-minute walk around your neighborhood. Building up from there will be more practical than trying to be a fitness star right off the bat.
Smoking can do more than affect your lungs–it elevates your chances of developing GERD.
Nicotine relaxes muscles in the body, such as the lower esophageal sphincter. Since this sphincter works to prevent acid from passing from the stomach up into the esophagus, this means bad news.
Smoking also increases your stomach’s acid production and decreases your saliva production. Saliva is critical in preventing acid reflux as it contains an acid-neutralizing substance called bicarbonate.
PLOS ONE released a research study in 2016 that examined individuals who had quit cigarette use. The articles states that 43.9% of the patients who stopped smoking saw their GERD improve.
I know smoking is a difficult habit to shake, but I encourage you talk to your doctor about medications that can help you quit.
Unfortunately, sometimes when you try to fix one health problem with medications, side effects can bring about a new problem.
For example, osteoporosis medications (bisphosphonates), pain medications (ibuprofen and aspirin), quinidine, and antibiotics have the potential to cause GERD to develop.
Often, medications like quinidine are necessary for people who have certain heart conditions. However, it’s possible to reduce your use of ibuprofen and aspirin–don’t take them unless they are absolutely needed to treat pain.
I truly believe that knowledge is power.
It’s extremely beneficial to learn about and better understand these risk factors for acid reflux and GERD so that you can reduce the symptoms if you already have it, or even prevent developing the disorder.
You may not experience typical symptoms of GERD such as heartburn and indigestion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have it. Learn about five unusual symptoms of acid reflux here.