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What Causes Acid Reflux, Heartburn & GERD? | Stop Acid Reflux Now

What Causes Acid Reflux, Heartburn & GERD?

Heartburn is the most common sign of acid reflux because it is one of the symptoms of this condition that can truly be felt by the sufferer.  Heartburn occurs when gastric acid has remained in the lower esophagus for a prolonged period of time.  The irritation the acid inflicts on the esophagus causes the sufferer to feel an uncomfortable, and often painful burning sensation behind the breastbone, which can rise to the level of the throat.  

Heartburn occurs when the muscle valve between the esophagus and stomach, known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), fails to close while the stomach is digesting food.  When the LES opens during digestion, acid can be refluxed into the esophagus and heartburn is often the end result.  When the LES fails, it is often because it has become weakened.  There are many causes that can weaken the LES.  In fact many of these causes are the same factors that can make acid reflux, heartburn and GERD worse.

What causes acid reflux? 

There are many dietary and lifestyle factors that can cause episodes of acid reflux to be prolonged, frequent, or intense.  The following are the most common factors:

Caffeine.  Drinks or foods that contain caffeine including regular and decaffeinated coffee and tea, soda, energy drinks and chocolate. 

Fatty and spicy foods.  Red meats, deep fried and processed foods, spicy foods such as chili and curry.  These foods stay in the stomach longer and slow down digestion which places pressure on the LES.

Tomatoes.  Tomato and tomato based products including sauces and juice.  Tomatoes contain a compound that relaxes the LES.

Raw onion.  Raw onion does not appear to cause acid reflux in those who do not have it, but it often makes heartburn worse in those who suffer from the condition, especially when eaten in large quantities.

Citrus fruits & juices.  Oranges, grapefruits, lemon, lime, etc.  Citrus relaxes the LES.

Peppermint.  Mint candy, mint tea, or mint ice cream.  Peppermint is beneficial for the lower digestive system, but it relaxes the LES.

Milk.  Milk is believed to help heartburn sufferers find relief from their symptoms because it can work as an instant antacid.  However, relief is often only temporary, as the calcium and protein in milk stimulate the production of acid, which can make your heartburn return worse in as little as 30 minutes of ingesting milk.

Alcohol.  Wine, beer, liquors, spirits.  Alcohol relaxes the LES and also increases acid production in the stomach.

Tobacco.  Smoking cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco weaken the LES and decrease saliva production.  Saliva helps to neutralize stomach acid.

Large meals.  A large meal is any meal that leaves you to feeling ‘stuffed’ or ‘bloated’.  Large meals can promote an increase in acid production, slow digestion, and place pressure on the LES by over filling the stomach.

Eating within 2 – 3 hours before bed.  Lying down directly after eating pushes the contents of the stomach against the LES.  Furthermore, when you sleep, all of your muscles naturally relax including the LES, which is why acid reflux is often worse at nighttime.

Strenuous exercising.  Sit-ups, jogging, etc.  Exercises that are tough on the abdominal muscles stress the stomach and the LES.  Furthermore, bending after eating can also make heartburn heart burn worse.

Tight clothing.  Tight pants, girdles, corsets, belts.  Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen squeezes the stomach and can force food up against the lower esophageal sphincter, forcing it to open.

Excess weight.  Being overweight or obese places stress on the stomach which then places stress on the LES causing it to weaken.

Medication.  Some medications can make heartburn worse including:

- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs/NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin, etc.)
- Anticholinergic drugs (antihistamines and urinary tract disorders)
- Calcium channel blockers (high blood pressure)
- Nitrates (angina)
- Beta-2 agonists (asthma)
- Tricyclic (antidepressants)
- Diazepam(seizures and anxiety disorders)

If you are taking medication for another health condition, talk to your doctor to find out if your medication is making your acid reflux worse.

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4 Responses

  1. March 22nd, 2008 | 3:26 pm

    THANKS for all the info on Acid Reflex ..I am 57, single Male, divorced for 20 years now,, Mostly raised my kids and supported them through all the hard times, now they are in their early 20s, have suffered from stomach problems for many years now, I try to watch what I eat, do not ever eat spicy foods, or fried foods tomatoes dont drink or smoke either, I can go for quite a few weeks and not have problems then all of a sudden It flares up again, I started out many years ago on Zantac and that controlled it for quite awhile then I kept having problems even with using anacids so I was put on Nexium, My Insurance changed so they would not cover that so I went through stages of Priolec OTC, Protonex and Peevisaid before I was able to get back on my Nexium, I seem to still have problems If I look at the situation I hardly ever have heartburn just that Pain burning near the top of my stomach,lots coughing in the morning.. I see situations when It gets worse is when I WORRY or feel stressed out over my kids, bills etc ..I have had the scope thing abt 5 years ago now, showed just ARD, anyway sometimes too I go to the Chripractor and if my lower back is out I think it affects my stomach problem also, I feel better after my treatment, anyways I see you put down being overweight can make it worse also The Doctor said i should lose 40 lbs as i weigh 230 and he wants me to weigh 190 , I dont WHAT In the world to eat to still lose the weight and to coinside with the acid problem, beceause when my stomach hurts I have to just eat caned fruit, applesauce cottage cheese and toast, and my cereal and some frozen vegs I hadly ever eat red meat once in awhile a hamburger or steak but mostly chicken or tuna etc..HOW CAN I REDUCE MY WEIGHT and stlll STAY ON A ACID REFLEX DIET?I THANK you for this newsletter to my email, dont rellay have the money now for the book you advertise though would like to get it in future..HOPE This site is not just a come on and Hope you REALLY want to help those with ACID REFLEX, Thanks for your time, Just a note also I am a Christian and Lots Of the only help I have comes from the Lord!~THANKS for any advice, Roger Miller

  2. Sandra Reynolds
    March 27th, 2008 | 11:40 pm

    Why is decaffeinated tea on the hit list? I thought decaffeinated meant not caffeinated?

    It seems virtually impossible to maintain a healthy diet with so many beneficial foods forbidden.

  3. March 28th, 2008 | 12:49 am

    Hi Sandra -

    Decaf tea contains varying amounts of caffeine dependent upon the manufacturer. Decaffeinated is really another word for less caffeine.

    Herbal teas really generally are caffeine free.

    We have switched to Rooibos Tea recently which is packed with antioxidants but without caffeine.


  4. March 28th, 2008 | 6:01 am

    Roger -

    I am not sure what support your doctor has given you regards losing weight.

    But, here are some resources that may help.

    Firstly, if you want to lose weight you really need to understand the amount of calories you should be restricting yourself to each day.

    You can work out the amount of calories you are likely to need to maintain your weight using calculations like this one here:


    Assuming that you are within the normal distribution, then if you intake less calories than the amount this site suggests you should start to lose weight.

    Also, exercise would help increase the amount of calories consumed each day, and help speed up your metabolism.

    The next step is to work out how many calories you are eating daily.

    Most foods have labels that tell you the calories per pack or per 100g. Or online ther are resources where you can find lists of foods and their calorie content.

    Using these measures keep a track of how many calories you are eating daily, and keep the number below your target figure.

    And if you want to lose more weight then reduce the calorie intake further (but talk with your doctor about your specific targets)

    As for the foods that are acceptable and the ones that are not, there are quite a few posts on this blog that will help out.

    Here are a few:






    Finally, you mention stress could be a contributor.

    Here is a post I did about “stress and Acid Reflux” you may find useful.


    Kind regards