Controlling Acid Reflux

By Diane Schlindwein

November 14, 2012 5 min read

Sixty-four-year-old Kate Levin knows to avoid eating any tomato-based sauce products in the late afternoon or early evening. "If I eat anything with a red sauce -- spaghetti, pizza, whatever it might be, I'll have indigestion all night and won't be able to sleep."

Levin also sometimes suffers from a nagging cough that her doctor says is caused by acid reflux. "My doctor has given me some medication to take, and sometimes when I don't take the medicine I can really tell the difference," she says.

Indigestion problems aren't limited to seniors. John Lund, 24, also has acid reflux. A fit, athletic law enforcement professional, he takes a specialist-prescribed medication every day. Lund says knowing his paternal grandfather died of esophageal cancer at age 55 makes taking care of his acid reflux now, as a young man, especially important.

Levin and Lund are two of the almost 125 million Americans whose source of misery begins with the consequences of what they eat. There are several kinds of acid reflux, explains Dr. Jamie Koufman, a pioneering laryngologist and director of the Voice Institute of New York.

Koufman says a backup of the stomach contents into the throat causes laryngopharyngeal reflux, or LPR, the medical term for reflux in the throat. LPR is also known as airway reflux and silent reflux. Silent reflux describes when a person is unaware that the problem is actually acid reflux and may think they have postnasal drip, allergies or asthma.

Koufman, who is also a professor of clinical otolaryngology at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of the New York Medical College, has been studying the frightening 850 percent increase in reflux-related esophageal cancer and the acidification of the American diet since the 1970s.

According to Koufman, the clues lie in the tissues of the larynx, or voice box, that show evidence of a digestive enzyme called pepsin. Pepsin is manufactured in the stomach, and the backflow of stomach acid and pepsin is corrosive.

Symptoms of reflux are hoarseness, chronic throat-clearing, cough, choking episodes, trouble swallowing, a lump-in-the-throat sensation, postnasal drip, sinusitis, asthma, sore throat, heartburn and indigestion.

Eating carefully is important, says Koufman, who is the co-author of the book "Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure." The book is a crash course on acid reflux, which covers the history of the disease and helpful hints.

Koufman recommends a two-week "acid detox." For 14 days, avoid consuming any acidic foods, and fill your meals with fish, poultry, tofu, melons, bananas, oatmeal, whole-grain breads and cereals, mushrooms and greens.

"Eat close to the earth -- things like grain, poultry, fish," she says. "Grains are good; almost all vegetables." Avoid fried food, chocolate and soft drinks.

Another New York-based physician, Dr. Nieca Goldberg, author of "Dr. Nieca Goldberg's Complete Guide to Women's Health," also recommends avoiding peppermint, caffeinated drinks, citrus juices, tomato juice and fatty foods.

Goldberg says when she was younger she suffered with acid reflux in the form of a sharp pain in her chest as well as a "sick feeling." "I was starting my practice, working on a research project and generally juggling several heavy balls simultaneously," she writes in her book. "I was drinking a great deal of coffee.

"I went to my doctor, who diagnosed acid reflux and suggested appropriate medication. I got better, but having the pain of acid reflux made me more aware of how frightening such chest pain can be." She says gastrointestinal reflux disease, or GERD, is often cured with a combination of medications and lifestyle changes.

Both Koufman and Goldberg recommend "closing the kitchen" after 8 p.m., as late-night meals and snacks provoke indigestion. "Eating earlier in the evening will allow the stomach to empty before you lie down to sleep," says Goldberg.

"Raise the head of the bed to keep the esophagus above the stomach," Goldberg says. "People who sleep on their left sides seem to do better than on their right."

Other quick fixes include giving up smoking, avoiding wearing clothing that is too tight and giving up exercising directly after a meal, says Koufman.

Finally, Goldberg recommends maintaining a healthy weight and letting your doctor know if you are following the above-mentioned recommendations and are still having symptoms of acid reflux, GERD or LPR.

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