Reflux is on the rise with estimates that more than 20 percent of Americans are affected. Its symptoms include heartburn, indigestion, postnasal drip, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing and even coughing and asthma. Sales of both prescribed and over-the-counter remedies exceed $13 billion dollars annually. Current research suggests that our eating routines may have as much to do with these uncomfortable symptoms as what we’re actually eating.
We’ve all been there – rushing around throughout the day, too busy to sit down and eat. After a long stress-filled day, we finally sit down to dinner, only to look at the clock and realize it’s 8:00pm or later and our heads will soon hit the pillow. Unfortunately, according to a recent article in the New York Times, the risk for acid reflux increases in people who eat any food after 8 p.m. or within three hours before going to bed.
Acid reflux isn’t just that uncomfortable feeling of heartburn. It can have damaging long-term health effects. Those who suffer from chronic, severe reflux can develop esophagitis (inflammation and narrowing of the esophagus), or even esophageal cancer.
You’ve likely heard that late-night eating can lead to weight gain, but a sensible dinner at 10:00 versus 7:00 is more likely to cause painful heartburn than pack on the pounds. But, beware the bedtime snack. Mindlessly binging in front of the TV adds extra calories and that will cause weight gain PLUS acid reflux.
If you suffer from chronic heartburn and reflux, try to avoid eating within three hours of going to bed. You can also:
- Eat 6 smaller meals each day instead of 3 larger ones. This will help keep the stomach from becoming too full, and help prevent excessive production of stomach acid.
- If one of your meals ends up being larger than the others, aim to eat that meal for lunch instead of supper.
- Limit the amount of citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits that you eat.
- Relax! Stress may lead to an increase in stomach acid production. It is also known to lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn, such as overeating.
- Get regular exercise – it can help with digestion. Just make sure to wait at least two hours after a meal before breaking a sweat. Exercising on a too-full stomach can trigger heartburn.