Dietary Changes and GERD / Acid Reflux: The Latest Research

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In this recent Health Alert, Johns Hopkins reviews the latest research from The Archives of Internal Medicine on diet and GERD, which suggests that contrary to common advice, dietary changes alone will not improve symptoms of GERD, such as heartburn or acid reflux.

If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, also known as acid reflux) you know these unpleasant feelings all too well -- heartburn, indigestion, nausea, and sometimes vomiting.

Acid from the stomach can even regurgitate into organs connected to the esophagus, such as the larynx, trachea, and lungs, causing pain and long-lasting damage.

One of the first things doctors tell people with GERD is to change their diet to reduce heartburn. This advice often means eliminating chocolate, spicy foods, mint, citrus fruits and juices, fatty foods, carbonated beverages, coffee and other caffeinated products, alcohol, and late-night meals.

Now a research review of over 100 studies of these dietary and other lifestyle measures has found that, while consuming these foods and beverages may make GERD symptoms worse, there is NO scientific evidence that banning them from your diet will improve heartburn, or fix the underlying problem of acid reflux.

[This research review was reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Volume 166, page 965).]

What WILL work for GERD, according to the research review, is sleeping with the head of your bed elevated, and losing weight if you're overweight.

These strategies reduce heartburn symptoms and lower acid levels in the esophagus.

Of course, if you experience heartburn after eating a certain food, common sense dictates that you avoid that food to see if your symptoms improve.

If the symptoms don't improve, see a doctor about taking medication for GERD, which will likely do more for your symptoms than dietary restrictions.

For those who dismiss their symptoms as 'just' heartburn, treating GERD is important. Untreated GERD can lead to serious complications, such as esophageal ulcers (nonhealing mucosal defects), esophageal strictures, Barrett's esophagus (a disorder of the cells lining the esophageal mucosa, which may lead to cancer), and esophageal cancer.

Therefore, it is important to not self-diagnose, and inform your doctor of any change in symptoms or severity of symptoms.

For more Digestive Disorders Health Alerts, please visit the Digestive Disorders Topic Page
Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Digestive Disorders Topic Page

For an annual review of the latest research on Digestive Disorders, please visit:
Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Digestive Disorders White Papers 2008


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