Can a Vegetarian Diet Reduce Acid Reflux?

Key Takeaways:

  • A predominantly vegetarian diet may offer relief for individuals suffering from acid reflux, displaying effectiveness similar to traditionally used medications.
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux, the specific acid reflux condition studied, often manifests as chronic sore throat, persistent coughing, and a sensation of a lump in the throat, rather than the more commonly known symptom of heartburn.
  • Traditionally, this condition has been treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), but these were found to be ineffectual for many patients and may be linked to potential health risks with prolonged use.
  • The dietary recommendation is a plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet with foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts making up 90% of one’s diet. The avoidance of certain beverages and foods such as coffee, tea, alcohol, and fried or fatty foods is also advised.
  • A comparative study found the plant-based diet to be as or more effective than PPI treatment. The diet resulted in a clinically meaningful improvement in 63% of patients.

Adopting a predominantly vegetarian diet may provide symptom relief similar to commonly used medications for individuals suffering from acid reflux, recent research has shown.

Understanding Laryngopharyngeal Reflux

The research focused on approximately 200 individuals diagnosed with laryngopharyngeal reflux at a particular medical facility. This condition is characterized by the continual backflow of stomach acids into the throat and is distinct from the more commonly known gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as heartburn.

Laryngopharyngeal reflux symptoms often do not manifest as heartburn, but rather as symptoms such as hoarseness, chronic sore throat, persistent coughing, excessive throat clearing, and a sensation of a lump persistently present in the throat, according to the lead investigator, Dr. Craig Zalvan.

Common Treatment Practice and Potential Drawbacks

Typically, laryngopharyngeal reflux has been treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These include various prescription and over-the-counter medications. However, Dr. Zalvan discovered that these medications were ineffectual for a large proportion of patients. Further studies simultaneously raised concerns over whether PPIs are as safe as initially assumed, with prolonged PPI use linked to minor increases in risks of heart attack, kidney disease, dementia, and bone fractures. It remains unclear whether the drugs themselves are the cause of these increased risks.

Dietary Approach to Managing Acid Reflux

Given these concerns, Dr. Zalvan began recommending a dietary approach, encouraging patients to adopt a predominantly vegetarian, Mediterranean-style diet. He advised his patients to make their diet 90% plant-based, consuming mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, and limiting meat and dairy to two or three moderate servings per week.

Additionally, he advised his patients to follow standard advice to avoid beverages and foods that are known to exacerbate reflux symptoms, including coffee, tea, alcohol, and fried or fatty foods.

Comparing the Dietary Approach with PPIs

In a new study, Dr. Zalvan’s team conducted a retrospective review of patient records to compare the effectiveness of this dietary approach with the PPI treatment. Their investigation centered on 85 patients treated with PPIs and given standard diet advice between 2010 and 2012, and 99 who were advised to follow a predominantly vegetarian diet.

Remarkably, when it came to alleviating the patients’ symptoms, the plant-based diet was found to be as effective, if not more so, than the PPIs. After six weeks, 63% of those on the plant-based diet displayed a clinically meaningful improvement, with at least a six-point reduction on the reflux symptom index. This was compared with 54% of those in the PPI group.

The Impact of Weight Loss

An unexpected benefit of the plant-based diet was that patients typically lost eight pounds. Although it is uncertain how much this weight loss contributed to the improvement in their symptoms, what is clear is that a vegetarian diet plays a significant part in managing acid reflux.

Importance of Healthy Choices

Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, also advocated for a predominantly plant-based diet to manage acid reflux. She emphasized the importance of healthy plant-rich choices, promoting a diet high in vegetables, beans, and nuts, rather than pasta and bagels.

According to Angelone, healthy plant foods tend to mitigate inflammation in the body, while a diet high in processed foods can promote inflammation. Moreover, there has been a growing recognition of acid reflux as an inflammatory disorder. Hence, the lasting damage may not be caused by the acid itself, but rather our body’s inflammatory response.

“This study provides additional evidence that you should aim for a diet that consists predominantly of plant-based foods and minimises processed foods,” said Angelone. While it’s crucial to pursue healthy dietary changes that are sustainable in the long run, it’s important to note that dietary choices both play significant roles in the immediate alleviation of symptoms such as acid reflux and your long-term disease risk, added Angelone.

More Information

Find more details on laryngopharyngeal reflux here.

Susan Levin

Hello, wellness enthusiasts! I'm Dr. Susan Levin, and while I may share a name with a certain American film producer, our domains couldn’t be more different! My silver screen is the world of medical science, and I have a deep-rooted passion for guiding individuals on their health journeys.Born and raised amidst the picturesque landscapes of Great Britain, I've also called the vibrant state of New Jersey my home for a significant chapter of my life. Both places have contributed to my understanding of health, community, and the diverse lifestyles that shape our well-being.With an M.D. in hand and a wealth of knowledge from years of practice, my goal on is to translate complex medical jargon into understandable, actionable advice for our readers. From the latest health trends to tried-and-true practices, I aim to be your reliable source for all things health and wellness.Join me as we unravel the intricacies of the human body and mind, ensuring that your health journey is informed, inspired, and most importantly, effective.
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