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10 Things You Should Know About Avoiding Acid Reflux

Tips and recipes for how to beat heartburn

En español | What is acid reflux? It’s a condition in which there’s a backflow of stomach contents — including acid and partially digested food — into the esophagus, the swallowing tube connecting the mouth and stomach. 

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Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, it now affects about 40 percent of Americans, almost half of whom have a form of reflux known as “silent” reflux.

Here’s what you need to know about managing — or even beating — acid reflux.

1. Are You at Risk?

Acid reflux used to be diagnosed primarily in older adults and people who were overweight. But today plenty of thin people and young people are afflicted. While reflux is linked to obesity and genetics, its increasing prevalence, particularly among the young, is due to too much acid in the American diet. (See the box "Added Acids in Food" on the next page.)

2. Reflux Comes in Different Forms With Different Symptoms

The best-known type of reflux, GERD, is commonly associated with heartburn and indigestion. But people with silent reflux, or laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), may never have those telltale symptoms. Instead, they may have hoarseness, a chronic cough, choking episodes, trouble swallowing, a postnasal drip or the feeling of having a lump in their throat that won’t go away. They may also have difficulty catching their breath or may experience wheezing. Indeed, reflux can worsen underlying asthma, making it more difficult to treat.

3. Medications Aren’t a Cure

As it turns out, acid reflux is not just due to acid. When you reflux, a stomach enzyme called pepsin also rises, and pepsin is not suppressed by the anti-reflux medicines currently on the market. That’s why diet and lifestyle changes are important; they allow inflamed tissues to heal.

4. Eat the "Good Foods"

Whole-grain bread, oatmeal, salad, bananas, melons, chicken (without the skin), fish, turkey, fennel, celery, parsley, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, aloe vera, ginger, couscous and brown rice are all examples of great foods for people with GERD or LPR. These are foods with low acidity.

5. Avoid the "Bad Foods"

Chocolate, carbonated beverages, alcohol, fatty meats, fried foods, high-fat dairy products, fast food, processed foods, caffeine, hot sauces, hot peppers, citrus fruits and juices all worsen acid reflux. Alcohol, chocolate and soda are especially problematic, not only because of their intrinsic acidity but because they weaken the body’s defenses against stomach contents rising up.

6. Eat Organic: Typically, organic foods do not have acid or other chemicals added. But check the labels. If you see citric acid, ascorbic acid or vitamin C listed in the ingredients, consider other products or foods.

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