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Vegetarian Diet Relieves Heartburn Symptoms as Good as Common Meds

Vegetarian Diet

A change in diet may be just what you need to eliminate reflux for good!


Gastroesophageal reflux – or what most people call heartburn – is quite common. An estimated 15 million Americans are on medications known as PPI, proton pump inhibitors such as Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid.

While these medicines overall are safe, they do come with some short-term side effects and potentially long-term health risks. If you are experiencing frequent heartburn symptoms, the best first step may be to change your diet.

A recent study involving 200 patients found that those who adopt a mostly vegetarian diet had relief of laryngopharyngeal reflux (where stomach acid backs up into the throat, causing pain and burning) similar to that who used medical treatment. After six weeks of treatment, more than 60% of the vegetarian group showed at least a 6-point drop on the “reflux symptoms index” scale.

This was “good, if not better, than PPI’s,” said study leader Craig Zalvan MD. Within the medication group, only 54% of patients showed that much improvement.

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What does “mostly vegetarian” mean exactly? For study patients, it meant having whole plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts “90% of the time.” Patients also avoided coffee, tea, alcohol, and fried/fatty foods, which have long been the mainstay of the dietary recommendations for reflux and heartburn.

Some of the benefit of the vegetarian diet could have been due to weight loss experienced by the patients. Patients lost an average of eight pounds – weight loss is another recommendation by doctors for those who experience frequent bouts of heartburn. But the diet itself could also have contributed as plant foods are anti-inflammatory.

Other tips for frequent sufferers:
• Eat smaller meals more frequently, instead of large meals.
• Cut out processed foods
• Do not lie down right after eating as this can increase symptoms
• Increase exercise – which can help with both digestion and weight loss

Journal Reference:
Craig H. Zalvan, Shirley Hu, Barbara Greenberg, Jan Geliebter. A Comparison of Alkaline Water and Mediterranean Diet vs Proton Pump Inhibition for Treatment of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux. JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, 2017; DOI: 10.1001/jamaoto.2017.1454

Additional Resources:
NPR – Popular Heartburn Pills Can Be Hard to Stop, And May Be Risky