Living with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is very common, affecting about a third of the U.S. population. Although common, the condition often has symptoms that are aggravating. If you suffer from reflux, you know it and have grown tired of the heartburn sensation and chest pain symptoms, which can mimic a heart attack.
These symptoms are often treated with a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors. Research has shown many acid reflux drugs can increase stroke risk by as much as 94 percent.
There had to be a better way. So, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital looked to the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the longest-running studies on women’s health, established in 1989 with 116, 671 nationwide participants.
Here’s what they found…
5 ways to say bye to GERD
This study collected data from the Nurses’ study that included almost 43,000 women, aged 42 to 62, who were questioned about GERD or heartburn symptoms from 2005 to 2017.
And that data concluded that the following diet and lifestyle guidelines can greatly reduce gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms:
- Maintain a normal weight
- No smoking
- Moderate to vigorous physical activity for 30 minutes (daily)
- Restricting coffee, tea, and sodas – 2 cups (daily limit)
- Following a prudent diet (details below)
The researchers’ statistical model allowed them to calculate the “population-attributable risk” for GERD symptoms associated with each of the five lifestyle factors. The researchers discovered that participants who more closely followed the five lifestyle factors lowered their risk of symptoms by 37 percent.
That means by just adhering to the five lifestyle factors, women can substantially reduce their symptoms, making medication unnecessary for most — and, most importantly, taking that increased stroke risk out of the equation.
Evidence medication isn’t always the answer
Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH, the study’s senior author, stated, “this study provides evidence that common and debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms could be well controlled in many cases with diet and lifestyle modifications alone.”
But another significant aspect of this study is that it is one of the first to demonstrate physical activity in controlling GERD — something Dr. Chan was surprised to find.
“We were particularly interested in the effectiveness of physical activity,” says Chan. “This is one of the first studies that has demonstrated its effectiveness in controlling GERD.” This effect, he suggests, could be due in part to exercise’s effect on the motility of the digestive tract. “Being physically active may help with the clearance of stomach acid which causes heartburn symptoms,” he says.
Alkalize your diet
Adopting a “prudent diet” was one of the five recommendations from the study. When it comes to acid reflux an alkaline diet that balances pH levels is certainly prudent.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it helps to eat foods that have a higher pH because they are more alkaline and can offset stomach acid. Foods like:
They also suggest high fiber foods that help curb overeating, a contributor to GERD:
- Whole grains such as oatmeal, couscous and brown rice.
- Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and beets.
- Green vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli and green beans.
Author Dr. Andria Schmedthorst also has tips for alkalizing your diet for peak health.
Great homemade heartburn remedies include apple cider vinegar (diluted with water), ginger tea and lemon water. Also, here are 4 natural and safe reflux remedies recommended by my colleague Jedha Dening.
The Nurses’ Health Study is a huge treasure trove of data for researchers. But there’s no reason to assume that these suggestions for reducing GERD symptoms won’t work for men and women.
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GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn) — Johns Hopkins Medicine