Acid reflux, which occurs when acid or other stomach contents back up in the oesophagus, which affects about 60 million people in the United States. The statistics for South Africa aren't far behind…
Many people who suffer from acid reflux rely on medications to treat it. However, a mostly vegetarian diet may provide relief from the condition similar to widely used medications, according to a new study.
Keep reading for the full findings, as published online in JAMA Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.
A mostly vegetarian diet offers relief from acid reflux, study shows
For their study, the researchers looked at almost 200 participants at one medical centre who’d been diagnosed with laryngopharyngeal reflux – a condition where stomach habits habitually back up in the throat. It’s distinct from the much better-known GERD, or what most people call heartburn.
Lead researchers Dr Craig Zalvan explained that most people with laryngopharyngeal reflux usually don’t have heartburn. Instead, they have symptoms like chronic sore throat, hoarseness, persistent coughing, excessive throat clearing and a feeling of a lump in the throat. Still, this condition is often treated with GERD drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), including over-the-counter drugs like Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid.
Based on research on diet and various chronic illnesses, Dr Zalvan began advising the participants to take up a mostly vegetarian diet that he described as ‘Mediterranean style’. He encouraged them to go 90% plat-based, eating mainly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, while limiting meat and dairy to two or three modest servings per week.
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In addition, Dr Zalvan gave the participants the standard acid reflux advice to avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and fried or fatty foods.
The study team focused on 85 participants who’d been using PPIs and standard diet advice between 2010 and 2012, and 99 who’d been advised to go mostly vegetarians. When it came to treating their symptoms, “the diet was good, if not better, than PPIs,” Dr Zalvan said.
After just six weeks, 63% of participants on the vegetarian diet showed at least a 6% drop on a scale called the reflux symptom index. Dr Zalvan noted that that’s considered a clinically meaningful improvement. That compared with 54% of PPI participants, according to the study.
It’s critical that you pick healthy plant foods to soothe acid reflux…
Sonya Angelone, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition, also recommends a mostly vegetarian diet for managing acid reflux. COmenting on the findings of the new study, she said. “I think this study offers more evidence that you should aim to eat more plants and fewer processed foods.”
According to Angelone, the key is to pick healthy plant foods – think vegetables, beans and nuts rather than pasta and bagels. She explains that healthy plant foods tend to calm inflammation in the body, whereas a diet heavy in processed foods has the opposite effect.