The most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is acid reflux. If you have acid reflux at least twice a week, you are considered to have GERD. There are a variety of treatment options for GERD, most of which involve diet and lifestyle choices.

What is GERD?

When we swallow our chewed food it travels down a tube from the mouth to the stomach (the esophagus). At the bottom of the tube, it passes through a gateway (the lower esophageal sphincter) and into the stomach. The stomach is an acidic environment so you want the gate to be closed so that you don’t get any acidic juices leaking into the esophagus. It’s a one way value that allows chewed food to pass through. If that sphincter becomes a bit too relaxed or loose, the acidic juices flow back from your stomach and into the esophagus. Reflux means to flow back.

Acid Reflux
The lower esophageal sphincter is shown in the black circle

How do I know I have acid reflux?

The symptoms of acid reflux include a burning sensation in your chest or chest pain (particularly after eating or late at night), trouble swallowing, bringing up food or a sour tasting liquid and feeling like you have a lump in your throat. It’s important if you suspect you have acid reflux to get it confirmed by your doctor. Any chest pain or shortness of breath should be treated as an emergency in the first instance, even if it turns out that it’s not.

Treatment options for GERD

GERD can be managed through dietary and lifestyle choices. These things can aggravate GERD:

  • fried or fatty foods
  • peppermint
  • alcohol (particularly red wine), coffee
  • chocolate
  • smoking – it relaxes the sphincter even more
  • eating large portions or eating late at night
  • some medications, e.g. aspirin

Avoiding your trigger foods and eating smaller portions earlier in the day can help. Herbs which reduce inflammation and are soothing and healing will also be helpful. My favourites are marshmallow and calendula. Here’s a recipe for marshmallow syrup.

English Marigold
Calendula officinalis

Your herbalist may also prescribe herbs which can tone the sphincter such as gentian but I recommend doing this with professional support rather than self prescribing.

Your doctor may prescribe antacids or H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors to reduce the production of stomach acid. Whilst these medications can manage the symptom, they may not be addressing the weakness in the sphincter.