Drug-free relief for reflux sufferers

Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, affects up to one-third of Americans. It costs the U.S. $10 billion a year to treat. But some patients might not need surgery or drugs to relieve their heartburn.

GERD is a condition that happens when stomach contents leak back into the esophagus. Treatments include drugs and surgery, but Cleveland Clinic doctor Scott Gabbard says there are also natural remedies.

One perhaps unexpected remedy is chewing gum.

"Chewing gum actually stimulates your saliva production and helps your esophagus to clear some of the acid," Gabbard says.

Another remedy is to eat smaller meals. Studies show consuming 500-600 calories and between 15 and 20 grams of fat at a time decreases heartburn. Shedding excess weight can also relieve symptoms.

"Weight loss as little as 10 to 15 pounds has also been demonstrated to greatly improve symptoms of reflux," says Gabbard.

GERD sufferers should not eat three to four hours before bed. And if you experience symptoms at night, doctors are studying a new pillow that, in a pilot trial, reduced reflux by over 80 percent. It works by elevating the head and forcing patients to lie on their left sides.

"Sleeping on the left side decreases acid and stomach contents from coming up from the stomach into the esophagus," Gabbard advises.

Certain foods and beverages such as fried or fatty foods may contribute to the development of GERD. Primary symptoms can include heartburn, regurgitation, nausea, and chest pain. Seek immediate emergency help for any chest pain or discomfort.
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