Do the holidays leave a lump in your throat? If fond farewells aren’t choking you up, it could be that too many treats are causing or aggravating acid reflux, a condition that creates various types of discomfort–from a lump in your throat to indigestion.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, sometimes as far as the throat. When acid flows into the esophagus, it’s called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); when it reaches the throat, it’s called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). In either case, you may be able to ease the condition by modifying what and how much you eat, losing weight and quitting smoking, among other things.
Reflux, which affects some 40 percent of the U.S. population, occurs when the circular band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus weakens. Normally, the band opens to allow food and liquid to flow into your stomach, but when it weakens, it allows stomach acid to flow back up into your esophagus.
Holiday indulgences like chocolate, greasy or fatty food and alcohol may trigger or exacerbate acid reflux, but they don’t cause it. Rather, the high-protein, high-fat American diet causes the stomach to release extra amounts of the hormone gastrin. This increases the production of acid and the digestive enzyme pepsin, which, in turn, may irritate and damage the entire upper airway and digestive tract.
Most people can self-manage acid reflux, whether GERD or LPR, by eliminating dietary triggers. Research shows that a modified Mediterranean-style diet (a 90-to-95-percent plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts) not only helps reverse reflux symptoms and aids weight loss, but also decreases the risk of many chronic diseases including heart attack, stroke, diabetes and many cancers. Other strategies for easing reflux symptoms include eating slowly, avoiding tight-fitting clothing to minimize pressure on the abdomen and lower esophageal sphincter, waiting at least three hours before lying down after a meal, eating smaller portions, losing weight and stopping smoking. Drinking alkaline water with a pH greater than 8.0 can also help by naturally neutralizing acid and stopping the enzyme pepsin from working.
Sometimes, easing reflux symptoms requires medical treatment, such as over-the-counter or prescription medications or even surgery. Traditionally, treatment has focused on the use of medications called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs. PPIs are supposed to be used for short periods of time, up to 12 weeks; however, people often use them for too long, potentially increasing their risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney or liver damage, stomach or esophageal cancer or even death, according to recent studies.
If you think you have acid reflux, schedule an appointment by calling (914) 326-2425 or visit our website for more info, phelpshospital.org/reflux. A specialist will determine whether medical treatment or a dietary approach is best for you.