If you’re dealing with reflux and don’t like the idea of having to take medications to deal with the symptoms, you may want to look instead at modifying your diet as a whole versus just eliminating certain trigger foods. It could be that going mostly vegetarian may give you the same or better relief than taking the drugs!
When talking about reflux, the most commonly recognized entity is gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which is most commonly identified with heartburn. This is where stomach acid routinely escapes up into the lower esophagus and irritates the tissues, giving the burning sensation. A progressive manifestation is now called LPR (laryngopharyngeal reflux) where the acid has travelled up into the throat. Patients with this condition typically don’t have the classic heartburn sensation because recurring damage has left the lower esophagus desensitized.
Common symptoms of LPR include hoarseness, chronic sore throat, persistent coughing, excessive throat clearing and a feeling of a lump in the throat. This is due to the persistent reflux of acid higher up the esophagus and into the throat, which is now being irritated. A recent study of almost 200 patients suffering from this that had made beneficial dietary changes was published online in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. And the results gave some promising hope for those averse to pharmaceuticals.
For the investigation, the researchers looked at records of 85 patients who had been treated for LPR with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium, and given standard dietary advice. They were compared with 99 other patients who did not take a drug and were encouraged to follow a 90% plant-based diet. This consisted of mainly vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts, with meat and dairy being limited to two or three modest servings per week. They were also told to avoid coffee, tea, alcohol and fried or fatty foods.
They then looked at 6-week follow-ups when the patients were evaluated using a measurement called the reflux symptom index, where at least a 6-point drop on the scale was considered meaningful improvement. The comparison demonstrated that:
- 63% of the patients on the diet made improvements vs 54% taking the drugs
- The diet group also lost an average of 8 pounds
So, from this small evaluation, the group making the dietary lifestyle changes actually had a better rate of improvement than those taking a medication! (“Let food be thy medicine” – Hippocrates) This could be important to those wishing to avoid possible side effects from PPI’s, which have been linked to slightly increased risks of heart attack, kidney disease, dementia and bone fractures with prolonged use. And aside from the reflux issue, there would be other health advantages to the dietary approach as well.
In the functional medicine approach, we rely heavily on dietary changes to help the body heal and restore a normal state of balance. It may sound simple, but the results can be truly amazing! Healthy foods, especially plant-based choices like fruits and vegetable, provide many healing and protective nutrients not found in other foods and are key in helping reduce inflammation in the body. The key is knowing which choices may be best to support your particular health goals, and which may need to be avoided due to certain health conditions. Through consultation and proper lab testing to identify the source of the problem, and coaching and guidance on building a healthy diet, we are usually able to reduce most of the symptoms of reflux. If the problem has been chronic and started as heartburn and then progressed to LPR, the damage may take a little longer to reverse. But the longer healthier changes are incorporated, we also see weight loss, better sleep and improved energy as a result also!
So, if “reaching for the purple pill” to handle reflux isn’t your idea of truly improving your health, we invite you to come in for a consultation to see if the functional approach is more in line with what you are looking for in care. It can be one of the easiest health issues to overcome as long as you are willing to make some changes and focus on building a healthier diet, digestive tract and lifestyle. You can then make eating more enjoyable again!