Nutrition Articles

What Causes GERD?

Learn Which Risk Factors You Can Control

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Controllable Risk Factors
These are behaviors and factors that you can modify to lower your risk of suffering from GERD.
  • Your alcohol use. The lower esophageal sphincter normally prevents stomach contents from entering the esophagus. But alcohol is a depressant. It relaxes the body in many ways, and it also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing acid to enter the esophagus. People with GERD should limit or avoid alcohol.
  • Your weight. Excess fat in the abdomen puts increased pressure on the stomach, causing a reflux of stomach acid. Even a small amount of weight loss can help decrease GERD symptoms.
  • Your smoking habits. Smoking decreases the strength of the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid reflux. Quitting this habit can benefit your health in many ways, including a reduction in the incidence of GERD.
  • Your diet. Some foods are known to trigger symptoms in people with GERD. Chocolate and spicy foods are just a couple of common culprits. If you are suffering from this disease, consider keeping a heartburn journal to pinpoint your food triggers.
  • Your sleeping habits. When you're upright (standing or sitting), gravity helps hold stomach contents in their place, so allow two to three hours for your food to digest before lying down or sleeping. When you do lie down, try to keep your head and upper body elevated (raise the head of your bed or use extra pillows, for example) to further prevent reflux.
  • Your exercise habits. Exercising too soon after eating can increase your chances of heartburn. Most types of exercise contract your abdominal muscles, increasing the pressure on your stomach and forcing stomach acid back into the esophagus. Wait two to three hours after eating before you begin exercising.
Although GERD can sometimes be just a nuisance, often it can cause serious complications if left unchecked. Inflammation of the esophagus due to the damage caused by stomach acid can lead to bleeding, ulcers, and scarring. In some instances, the damage to the esophagus can be so severe that it leads to cancer. The seriousness of these complications warrants a change in lifestyle to prevent their occurrence.

Because GERD is so common, there are also a host of treatment options if lifestyle changes alone don't help. Work closely with your doctor to create a plan that works for you.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

    I have been diagnosed with GERD for a couple of years. Basically from eating too quickly and not allowing proper digestion.
    I did not want to use the medications recommended. I made a couple of simple changes that have dramatically helped;
    1/ Eat slowly. Allow digestion to take place
    2/ Reduce use of all antacids. Build up the natural stomach acids.
    3/ Restrict coffee.
    4/ THIS IS THE BIGGIE! EAT WATERMELON- juice, slices whatever-- but eat it every day! It restricts the episodes and severity. I used to have GERD every night- now maybe twice a month-- and am way happier. For personal info.
    I am a male; 60 years old; very fit. exercise 2 hours a day and don't eat much meat. Just eat too quickly! - 3/9/2015 1:58:25 AM
  • I had GERD with severe regurgitation since I was about four years old. Last year I finally had surgery to correct this and I am so much better now. Aspiration pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis were also risk factors for me. I had voice trouble and chronic asthma because of it. I was a small kid when I first started having I don't know how I got it. Lifestyle issues obviously weren't the reason. - 9/13/2013 10:16:19 AM
  • Wow...this article really helped me, especially the esophagus info. - 1/25/2011 9:43:58 AM
    This article was of benefit to me--I learned that my food does not cause it! Thank you. - 1/15/2010 10:54:20 AM

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