Ice Cream is Probably Making Your Heartburn Worse
Dairy products, including ice cream, can cause acid reflux symptoms in some people. The primary cause of this is the fat in the dairy products. This means, the more fatty the product, the bigger the impact on acid reflux. When we eat a high-fat meal, the stomach produces more acid to help digest the fat, which can then increase the likelihood of acid reflux symptoms.
Fat is not the only component of dairy products that can trigger acid reflux symptoms in some people. The proteins and lactose within dairy are also thought to be a cause, although the exact reasons are not understood.
Having said this, a significant number of people do say that a small amount of ice cream can be helpful at coating the stomach and throat. If you are going to take this approach, it is important to remember that eating too much ice cream will lead your stomach to produce more acid as it tries to break down the fat and even ice cream itself is slightly acidic (milk has a pH of less than 7 indicating it is an acid).
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition in which stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). This can cause a burning sensation in the chest, commonly referred to as heartburn. The stomach produces acid to break down food and help with the digestion process. The acid, also known as gastric acid, helps to kill harmful bacteria that may be present in the food we consume.
In healthy individuals, a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) prevents the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. However, in people with acid reflux, the LES may not function properly, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. This can also cause regurgitation of food or a sour taste in the mouth.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, around 60 million adults in the United States experience acid reflux at least once a month, while an estimated 15 million people experience it daily. This equates to roughly 20% of the US population experiencing acid reflux symptoms.
What causes acid reflux?
Acid reflux can be caused by a variety of factors including:
- Certain Foods: Certain foods can trigger acid reflux, such as spicy or fatty foods (e.g. ice cream), chocolate, caffeine, and acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits.
- The Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) not functioning properly: The LES is a muscular ring at the bottom of the esophagus that closes to prevent stomach acid from flowing back up into the esophagus. In some people, the LES may not function properly, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus.
- Hiatal Hernia: A hiatal hernia is a condition in which part of the stomach protrudes into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm. This can weaken the LES and lead to acid reflux.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the pressure on the stomach and LES, causing stomach acid to backflow into the esophagus.
- Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause the LES to relax, increasing the risk of acid reflux.
- Smoking: Smoking can weaken the LES and increase the production of stomach acid, increasing the risk of acid reflux.
- Certain Medications: Certain medications can increase the risk of acid reflux, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and medications for high blood pressure or asthma.
- Stress: High levels of stress can increase the production of stomach acid, increasing the risk of acid reflux.
Can I eat ice cream if I have acid reflux?
There are two main reasons why ice cream isn't normally a great choice if you suffer from acid reflux symptoms.
- Ice cream is relatively high-fat. Your stomach processes fats slower than other food groups such as carbohydrate and it creates extra acid to break down the fats. To summarize, fats reduce the amount of acid in your stomach that exists to cause a reflux problem.
- Ice cream can cause your lower espophageal sphincter (LES) to become numb and ineffective. This means acid more easily washes into the esophagus.
There are however a number of lower fat ice cream brands such as Halo Top that should cause fewer problems acid reflux wise.
There are multiple reports of individuals saying that they have found a very small amount of ice cream helpful for soothing acid reflux. They say it feels like it "neutralizes the acid in the stomach." Whilst it is true that the dairy will likely have this effect, your stomach will have to release more acid to break down the fat in the ice cream eventually.
Is rolled ice cream better for you than normal ice cream?
Some rolled ice cream recipes may contain less fat than traditional ice cream because they use lower-fat milk or milk substitutes, such as almond or soy milk, instead of heavy cream.
What medications exist for acid reflux?
Many people take medication to manage their acid reflux symptoms. There are several types of medication that can be used to treat acid reflux, including antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), H2 blockers, and prokinetics. Antacids can provide quick relief for mild acid reflux symptoms, while PPIs and H2 blockers work to reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach. Prokinetics can help to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter, which can help to prevent acid reflux from occurring.
The type of medication prescribed will depend on the severity and frequency of the individual's acid reflux symptoms, as well as other factors such as age and overall health. It's important to work with a healthcare provider to determine the best treatment approach for acid reflux, as untreated or poorly managed acid reflux can lead to more serious health issues over time.
Acid reflux FAQs
What food helps acid reflux go away?
While there is no one specific food that can cure acid reflux, there are certain foods that can help to ease symptoms and promote healing in the digestive tract. Some examples of foods that may help to alleviate acid reflux symptoms include:
- Non-citrus fruits such as bananas, apples, and pears, which are lower in acid and may help to neutralize stomach acid.
- Vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus, which are high in fiber and may help to absorb excess stomach acid.
- Lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and tofu, which are low in fat and may be easier to digest.
- Whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread, which are high in fiber and may help to reduce acid reflux symptoms.
- Ginger, which has natural anti-inflammatory properties and may help to soothe the digestive tract.
- Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, which can help to neutralize stomach acid
What foods make acid reflux / GERD worse?
It is the same list of foods that cause acid reflux.
Are acid reflux and heartburn the same thing?
Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest and throat.
Acid reflux is a digestive disorder that occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and stomach, doesn't close properly, allowing stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus. Acid reflux can cause a range of symptoms in addition to heartburn, including regurgitation, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and a sour taste in the mouth.
While heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux, not everyone with acid reflux experiences heartburn, and not all cases of heartburn are caused by acid reflux. Other conditions, such as gastritis, peptic ulcer disease, and even heart disease, can also cause heartburn-like symptoms.
When should you see a doctor about acid reflux?
You should consider seeing your doctor about acid reflux if you experience any of the following:
- Frequent symptoms: If you experience acid reflux symptoms more than twice a week, it's a good idea to see your doctor. Frequent symptoms can indicate that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a more severe form of acid reflux.
- Severe symptoms: If you experience severe symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty swallowing, or persistent coughing or wheezing, seek medical attention immediately.
- Symptoms that don't improve with lifestyle changes: If you've made lifestyle changes such as avoiding trigger foods, losing weight, and elevating the head of your bed, and you're still experiencing symptoms, it's a good idea to see your doctor.
- Symptoms that interfere with daily life: If your acid reflux symptoms are interfering with your daily life, such as causing you to miss work or disrupting your sleep, it's a good idea to see your doctor.
- Other health concerns: If you have other health concerns such as a history of Barrett's esophagus, esophageal cancer, or a weakened immune system, it's important to discuss your acid reflux symptoms with your doctor.
Your doctor can perform tests to determine the underlying cause of your acid reflux and develop an appropriate treatment plan to help manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.