Dr. Lagergren’s team found that tobacco can extend the time it takes for acidic foods to leave the esophagus. In an analysis of 30 studies, GERD affected about 20 percent of smokers, compared with about 16 percent of nonsmokers.
Those who engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day were less likely to develop symptoms of GERD, the Harvard team reported.
Cut down on coffee, tea and soda.
The risk of GERD was reduced among those who consumed no more than two cups of coffee, tea or soda each day.
Follow a heart-healthy diet.
Those who followed a Mediterranean-style diet, for example, featuring fruits and vegetables, legumes, fish, poultry and whole grains, but little or no red meat and other sources of saturated fats, were less likely to develop acid reflux.
Genetics can also affect one’s risk of developing acid reflux, so people with a family history of the problem would do best to avoid the risks highlighted above. Doing so will also help protect against leading killers like heart disease, diabetes and many forms of cancer.
How to manage symptoms
If you already have acid reflux, there’s much you can do to minimize symptoms and perhaps avoid them entirely. Instead of consuming large meals, eat smaller ones more often. Minimize fatty foods and skip fried and fast foods entirely. A friend uses an air fryer to achieve a crispy skin on chicken, but I prefer grilled chicken and skip the skin. Choose lean meats (if you eat meat) and low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and avoid eating within three hours of bedtime. Also, try sleeping as if on a recliner, with the head of the bed propped higher than the foot.
Foods that many people with GERD find most irritating include tomatoes and citrus (like oranges and grapefruit) and their juices, coffee (even decaf for some people), alcoholic and carbonated beverages, spicy foods, garlic, chocolate and peppermint. I long ago switched to low-acid orange juice, consuming only a few ounces a day to dissolve a fiber supplement. I’ve also found instant coffee to be less irritating than brewed, and drink the latter only with food to help protect my digestive tract.