Burning chest pain, throat irritation, a weird taste in your mouth...these are all symptoms of acid reflux. Certain foods — like greasy, spicy, fatty or acidic snacks — can trigger the condition. But other foods can help prevent it. Enter fiber, an acid reflux-fighting nutrient to add to your diet.
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Many of us may experience heartburn as an occasional discomfort. But if you're dealing with heartburn more than twice a week, you may have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
GERD is a common digestive disorder that affects up to 28 percent of the population in North America, per June 2018 research in Missouri Medicine. It occurs when the valve connecting your stomach and esophagus (your lower esophageal sphincter, or LES) is weakened or relaxed, allowing stomach contents like food and acid to flow back into your esophagus. Per the NIDDK, symptoms of GERD include:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chronic cough
While you may reach for over-the-counter relief when symptoms strike, it's important to consider dietary and lifestyle changes if you have repeated episodes of reflux. Natural remedies for heartburn include slowing down when you eat, eating smaller meals, chewing gum, limiting foods that cause GERD and sitting upright post-meal, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
You'll also want to add fiber to your heartburn-fighting toolbox, as the nutrient can help prevent GERD symptoms. Here's everything you need to know about fiber and acid reflux, including the benefits of eating fiber for GERD and whether supplements like Metamucil can help with acid reflux.
How a Fiber-Rich Diet Can Help Prevent GERD Symptoms
Fiber is a nutrient essential to your heartburn relief. That's why the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults eat the following amounts every day:
- People assigned female at birth: 22 to 28 g
- People assigned male at birth: 28 to 34 g
While too much fiber can be taxing on the system (more on that later), adequate fiber can support digestive health and prevent complications from acid reflux. Here's how:
1. Fiber Helps Quicken Digestion and Delayed Gastric Emptying
Diets low in fiber are associated with delayed gastric emptying and poor digestive motility (when food doesn't move through the digestive tract as quickly as it should), which can cause acid reflux and increase the risk of GERD, according to a June 2018 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology.
American diets are often devoid of fiber, as they tend to be lacking in the recommended amounts fruit, vegetables and whole grains all while being high in saturated fats, sodium and excess sugars, per an October 2019 article in Nutrients. Unfortunately, eating this way can result in poor digestion and delayed gastric emptying.
"Gastric emptying is controlled by the quantity and composition of the content," says Madathupalayam Madhankumar, MD, a family physician who specializes in surgical gastroenterology. "In slow gastric emptying, acid reflux is due to increased intragastric pressure. Also, undigested food can cause burping, resulting in heartburn."
- Legumes like beans, peas and lentils
- Whole grains like spelt, sprouted bread and oatmeal
"High-fiber foods are typically lower in fat and not heavily processed, which reduces heartburn and gastric issues," says dietitian Jana Mowrer, RDN.
Types of Fiber
- Soluble fiber: Dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that slows digestion and stabilizes blood sugar.
- Insoluble fiber: Promotes the movement of foods through your digestive system to increase the bulk of your stool and relieve constipation.
Some of these dietary fibers — like those found in the best fruits and vegetables for GERD — are also prebiotics, which are nutrients that help promote a healthy balance of bacteria in your digestive system to support gut health and overall wellbeing, Mowrer says.
2. Fiber Improves Esophageal Function
Getting enough dietary fiber increases the minimal resting pressure of the LES, per the World Journal of Gastroenterology study.
High-fiber foods may help keep the LES from releasing too soon or too often by binding to nitrate oxide contained in those foods, diminishing their effect of loosening the LES. Remember, when the LES becomes loosened, it may cause heartburn and other reflux issues.
3. Fiber May Help Neutralize Stomach Acid
Managing stomach acid is key to heartburn relief. Whether or not you take meds, a nutritious diet including adequate fiber is important.
It not only keeps your digestion system running smoothly, but it may also help prevent excess acidity. Certain fibers have been shown to reduce gastric acidity, lowering the frequency and potential damage of acid reflux, per the World Journal of Gastroenterology study.
4. Fiber Can Help Support Overall Wellbeing
Eating fibrous, natural foods to help acid reflux can also help ease the condition indirectly.
That's because eating plenty of the nutrient can help prevent overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. And having overweight or obesity in particular can put you at greater risk for developing acid reflux or GERD, per the NIDDK.
If you don't currently eat enough of the nutrient, gradually increase the amount you eat each day to avoid bloating or gas while your body adjusts to a higher-fiber diet, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Can Fiber Cause Acid Reflux?
While fiber typically helps alleviate acid reflux, too much of it can sometimes add to the problem if you have GERD.
For instance, an April 2013 review in The American Journal of Gastroenterology found that people with GERD who ate lots of highly fermentable starchy foods (that is, certain fibrous foods like oats and barley that can fill your gut with gas while they're digested) every day experienced more reflux episodes.
However, this doesn't mean you should skimp on fiber: Rather, stick to the foods that don't trigger your symptoms. If you have GERD, talk to your doctor or dietitian to determine the best foods for acid reflux that will help you avoid discomfort while still providing the nutrients you need.
And can fiber supplements cause heartburn? These products are often used to help normalize bowel movements and ease constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There's no evidence to show that fiber supplements (like Metamucil) often cause heartburn. These products are generally safe to use and may help support your digestion. However, they do have the potential to cause other side effects like bloating and gas, per the Mayo Clinic.
Is Metamucil Good for Acid Reflux?
It's unclear whether Metamucil can help with acid reflux specifically. But if your diet is lacking in fiber, getting enough of the nutrient may help relieve GERD for the reasons outlined above.
However, this doesn't necessarily mean you should take Metamucil for acid reflux. Instead, focus on eating primarily plant-based sources of the nutrient, according to the Mayo Clinic. If that doesn't cut it, talk to your doctor about whether you might benefit from a supplement.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Adults"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication"
- Missouri Medicine: "Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)"
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Fiber-enriched diet helps to control symptoms and improves esophageal motility in patients with non-erosive gastroesophageal reflux disease"
- Nutrients: "Gut Microbiota: An Important Link between Western Diet and Chronic Diseases"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- The American Journal of Gastroenterology: "Fiber and functional gastrointestinal disorders"
- Mayo Clinic: "I find it difficult to eat enough fruits and vegetables. Is there any harm in taking a fiber supplement every day?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Supplements: Nutrition in a pill?"