The undeniable fact is that acid reflux, aka heartburn, is on the sharp rise worldwide. There can be various reasons that may explain why the number of people with acid reflux has been increasing around the world.
However, medical experts point out that the modern lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits are the two most important factors causing this increase.
If you are one of those who suffer from acid reflux, you should know that a couple of lifestyle and diet changes can help you prevent acid reflux or at least minimise the occurrence rate.
In this article, we have compiled 8 effective methods that can either prevent acid reflux or help you get rid of this problem entirely.
Before diving into these effective ways to prevent acid reflux, let’s briefly explain how acid reflux occurs in the first place.
It is important to note that this article doesn’t address the definitive treatment of GERD – Acid Reflux! It is, rather, aims at helping people prevent acid reflux with lifestyle modifications.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid or contents goes back up to the oesophagus namely the food pipe.
Normally, the sphincter – the valve-like muscle at the lower end of the food pipe – prevents stomach contents to flow back into the food pipe (1).
However, for no obvious reason, in some people, this valve-like muscle relax and allows stomach acids to flow back up into the food pipe. When this happens it causes a burning sensation that we call heartburn.
If heartburn occurs at least twice a week, it is called GERD in medicine, which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Now that we have understood how acid reflux occurs, it is time to discover the 8 most effective ways to prevent acid reflux.
1- Beware of Citrus Fruits
It must be quite odd to hear that citrus fruits – such as lemon, oranges, and grapefruit, which are loaded with various vital nutrients – can be harmful to your body! Yes, unfortunately, when it comes to acid reflux, citrus fruits can cause problems.
This negative effect of citrus fruits stems directly from their high acid content. When consumed, organic acids exist in these fruits increase the acid level in the stomach and that, in turn, increases the risk of experiencing acid reflux (2).
So, should you give up eating these fruits? Not at all. As mentioned earlier, these fruits are quite nutritious and contribute to one’s overall health.
The best thing is to avoid eating them on an empty stomach.
As doctor Robynne Chutkan, from Georgetown Hospital in Washington, says “citrus fruits are likely to cause heartburn, especially when consumed on an empty stomach”.
In addition to citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato products as well can potentially cause acid reflux as they contain malic and citric acid (3).
Summary: When you have acid reflux, avoid eating these foods to prevent acid reflux from getting worse. But, regardless, always avoid eating both citrus fruits and tomatoes on an empty stomach.
2- High-Fat Foods
If you are to prevent acid reflux you should avoid eating high-fat foods as much as you can. This is because the consumption of these fatty foods, especially regular consumption of them, can set the stage for acid reflux.
The question is ” why and how these fatty foods can cause acid reflux?”.
The regular consumption of fatty foods can potentially cause the sphincter muscles to relax and as a result of this, stomach contents flow back into the food pipe.
Moreover, the stomach produces more acid to digest these types of foods. And, in turn, increases the risk of having heartburn.
So, what foods are classified as high-fat foods? Here are some of them (4):
– French fries and onion rings
– Full-fat dairy products
– Fatty or fried beef, pork or lamb
– Potato chips, ice cream
– Oily and greasy foods
Summary: The consumption of high-fat foods can significantly increase the risk of developing acid reflux, especially in the long run (5). So, convert to a healthier diet to prevent acid reflux.
3- Avoid Lying Down After Eating
With or without acid reflux, lying down right after eating can be harmful to everyone. However, if you have GERD, lying down right after a meal can significantly increase the chance of having acid reflux (6).
Here is why. Normally, gravity prevents stomach contents from going up towards the food pipe. But with lying down, the body’s position changes and the impact of gravity greatly disappears. So, it becomes easier for stomach acids to escape towards the food pipe.
So, how long you should avoid lying down after eating to prevent potential reflux?
According to findings of a case-control study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology; it appears that stopping eating 3 to 4 hours before bed appears to be ideal for preventing stomach acid from flowing back into the food pipe (7).
As for lunch or other meals of the day; it is recommended to wait at least one hour before lying down.
Summary: If you have GERD, you should certainly avoid lying down right after eating. Taking a walk at a slower rate, if possible, can aid digestion and reduce the risk of acid reflux.
4- Lose Excess Weight
The scientific fact is that being overweight significantly increases the risk of developing many diseases including acid reflux (8).
This clearly indicates that if you are overweight, you are, unfortunately, more likely to experience acid reflux.
In relation to that, most pregnant women develop acid reflux during the pregnancy period due to strong pressure on the stomach. And, it may get worse throughout the pregnancy as the baby/babies grow (9).
The same circumstance is valid if you are obese or overweight. The fat accumulation around the waist area increases the pressure on your stomach and that, in turn, causes stomach acid to escape upwards (10).
Evidence suggests that there is a positive correlation between weight loss and fewer GERD symptoms (8). In light of this, it is necessary to say that losing weight reduces the risk of acid reflux.
Summary: Indeed, losing weight requires time, planning and dedication. However, losing even 5 kg may make a difference in terms of preventing heartburn.
5- Avoid Smoking
Quitting smoking might be quite difficult for you. However, it doesn’t change the fact that smoking leads to many serious diseases, including GERD.
As mentioned above, acid reflux occurs when the valve between the food pipe and stomach relaxes, thus allowing stomach content to flow back up into the food pipe.
Summary: Smoking is considered one of the main causes of acid reflux. So, if you are to prevent acid reflux endeavour to quit smoking.
6- Avoid Tight Clothes
Many people would never think that certain clothing they wear is the underlying reason why they experience heartburn.
If you are asking how; according to medical experts; clothes that squeeze the abdomen increase the pressure on the stomach and that in turn, may cause stomach contents to flow back into the food pipe (11).
So, if you have GERD or suffer from frequent heartburn, avoid wearing tight clothes that squeeze your belly, at least until your symptoms subside. In this way, you may prevent acid reflux.
7- Minimise Spicy Foods
Many people like eating spicy and hot foods. And, you might be one of them. However, eating spicy foods regularly can bring on undesirable consequences, especially for those with acid reflux.
A 2017 study carried out in Korea found that eating hot spicy foods can potentially increase the frequency of GERD symptoms.
But, the question is how do spicy foods affect acid reflux? According to researchers; capsaicin that exists in almost all spicy foods delays stomach emptying, thus leading to acid reflux (13).
So, if you have acid reflux, it is sensible to stay away from spicy foods as much as you can. If you insist on eating spicy foods, at least try to limit their intake.
8- Sleep on your Left with Your Body Elevated
Last but not least. Elevating your body when you sleep on your left, for instance, by using an extra pillow while sleeping can prevent stomach contents from flowing back to the food pipe.
It bears repeating, that it is easier for stomach acid to flow back into the food pipe when lying down or sleeping.
However, when you put on an extra pillow or elevate your body with another method gravity keeps stomach contents in the stomach thus preventing the acid from reaching the food pipe (14).
Several studies have concluded that sleeping on the left side lowers the risk of heartburn at night (15, 16, 17).
Try this method, especially if you feel heartburn before falling asleep.
Tarkan is an experienced health writer ( currently more than 600 articles ) and also the founder of this website namely www.neededforhealth.com. His expertise in health stems from in-depth medical research and knowledge which he obtained over the course of many years.
Tarkan enjoys sharing factual knowledge on health, psychology and nutrition. He always aims to deliver evidence-based recommendations, provide links to related scientific studies.