Diet, Lifestyle Habits and GERD

June 10, 2024 , , ,

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition caused by stomach contents backing up into the esophagus. There are several potential causes that can contribute to the development of GERD, the most common being obesity. GERD can also be caused by a weakening of the sphincter muscle between the esophagus and stomach, or a hiatal hernia.

The most common symptoms of GERD are heartburn and regurgitation. Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest, behind the sternum. Regurgitation is a feeling of liquid or food coming up into the throat. Many people experience both symptoms, however, some patients may have one without the other. Other symptoms of GERD may include chest pain usually located in the middle of the chest and radiating towards the back, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), a sore throat, a chronic dry cough, a bitter taste in the mouth, a hoarse voice (usually in the morning) and a feeling of having to clear the throat often.

GERD is one of the most common gastrointestinal diseases. It may be normal to have heartburn from time to time, such as after eating a large meal. However, GERD is distinguished by more frequent symptoms. In the long term, reflux can damage the esophagus, pharynx or airways. GERD can increase the risk of developing a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which in turn increases the risk of developing gastroesophageal cancer. The diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus is made by endoscopy and biopsy.

Dietary and lifestyle changes can help alleviate GERD symptoms. There is a lack of studies to document their effectiveness, but here is a summary of the main recommendations (to be adapted according to each person’s individual tolerance):

  • Limit large portions, high fat meals (e.g. fried foods, fast food) and spicy foods
  • Limit coffee, alcohol, chocolate, mint, and acidic foods (e.g. tomatoes, citrus fruits). It is not necessary to completely eliminate all of these foods if some are well tolerated. In many cases, reducing their quantity without completely limiting them may be sufficient
  • Avoid anything that adds air to the digestive tract: ex. carbonated drinks, chewing gum, or drinking with a straw
  • Chew well, eat slowly and with a proper posture
  • Avoid eating before bed, wait two to three hours before lying down after eating
  • Raise your headboard to sleep or add an extra pillow
  • Do not smoke
  • Maintain a healthy weight

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Kathryn Adel
Kathryn holds a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition as well as a Bachelor and a Master Degree in Kinesiology, all from Laval University. She is a Registered Dietitian and active member of the Ordre professionnel des Diététistes Nutritionnistes du Québec (ODNQ) and of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds the Monash University's certification for the FODMAP diet and IBS, and has considerable clinical experience in that area. She is also an accomplished athlete, having ran track and cross-country at a national level. Kathryn specializes in sports nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, as well as heart and gastrointestinal health.

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