3 Steps to Managing Reflux, from a Gut Health Expert

Tess Patrick TESS PATRICK

Few of us are lucky enough to have not experienced reflux in life. But for those who have, it can not only be the most uncomfortable or painful experience, it can also be really disconcerting and worrisome. Reflux is often an indicator that there’s something not quite right with the digestive system, and if you’re anything like me, your mind often goes to the most alarming places.

That’s why I decided to reach out to an expert I know and trust, Alison Ramsay, for her advice. Alison is a Board Certified Functional Medicine Health Coach who, like me, truly believes looking after the gut is paramount to overall health. That’s because of not only our ancestral nutrition but mounting research in recent years that suggests our gut health plays a role (if not is in part responsible for our overall health).

“Reflux is a sign there is something awry in your gut,” Alison says. “It’s often a symptom of a larger issue that can be massively helped by supporting the gut.”

And while getting to the bottom of the cause of your reflux should be the number one step in any treatment protocol, there are a few natural approaches that can help alleviate the symptoms. Any persistent reflux or long-term changes should be performed with the individualized help of an experienced practitioner, but these three simple steps may help to take the strain off your digestive system.

Here are Alison’s top three tips to managing reflux:

1. Clean Up Your Diet & Remove Common Triggers

“Reflux is a sign there is something awry in your gut. It’s often a symptom of a larger issue that can be massively helped by supporting the gut. Common food triggers for acid reflux specifically are citrus, tomato-based foods, spicy foods, deep-fried foods, and alcohol,” Alison suggests. 

“Taking it a step further and finding out your own personal food intolerances will also help. Common food intolerances are gluten and dairy but there can be many more that are unique to you. You won’t get food intolerances diagnosed by a regular doctor, but seeing an integrative practitioner who can help guide you through an elimination protocol will bring any food intolerance to light. This will help not only your gut but your overall health.”

2. Consider Your Stress Levels

“Stress is a massive trigger for all kinds of health issues, but digestion is a big one,” Alison says.

“When you are in a parasympathetic state (relaxed) you are in a state of ‘rest and digest’. When you are stressed (fight or flight) the body doesn’t prioritize digestion as it’s not important when you are trying to run away from a tiger!

“Handling the root cause of your stress will be important, but in the short term these simple tips will help:

  • Take some deep breaths before you start eating. Sit down with your food, friends, and family, and make sure you pause and take some nice, slow deep breaths before diving in. Focus on elongating your exhale. This is a great health hack that will put you in a rest and digest state before eating.

  • Eat slow and mindfully. We live in a fast-paced world where often eating can be a nuisance that gets in the way of our productivity, but digesting literally begins when we chew. Make sure you carve out some time to eat and make sure you are chewing your food adequately. Even better, take slow breaths and slow chews for optimized digestion!

  • Take a high-quality magnesium complex supplement. Magnesium is depleted when we are stressed and therefore most of us are deficient! Low magnesium levels are also associated with acid reflux so consulting your primary health care practitioner and finding a good quality supplement will help not only your reflux but your stress too."

3. Don't Consume Food Late At Night

“When we go to sleep with food in our tummies, it can aggravate acid reflux once we lie down,” Alison says.

“Making sure you finish your food before the sun completely sets - or 3 hours before bed - will benefit your digestion, help support your circadian rhythm (your sleep and wake cycle), and lengthen your fasting period slightly. This will give the stomach a chance to regulate acid, therefore potentially improving reflux. Replacing evening snacking with sipping herbal teas like chamomile, or ginger with honey, will further support reflux and overall digestion.”

Reflux can be a struggle - believe me, I know - but once you learn the right way to manage your symptoms, and what stressor is actually causing the reaction, you’ll be able to work towards supporting a healthy, thriving digestive symptom once more. 

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