Study: Plant-Based Diet Alleviates Reflux as Effectively as Medications

Adherence to a plant-based diet reduces reflux symptoms as effectively as the troublesome drugs.

Oct. 4, 2017
By Mary West

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The tra­di­tional reflux med­ica­tions of pro­ton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are asso­ci­ated with a host of health prob­lems such as a higher risk of strokes, heart attacks, demen­tia and even pre­ma­ture death. A new study found close adher­ence to an eat­ing plan sim­i­lar to the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) reduces reflux symp­toms as effec­tively as the trou­ble­some drugs.

Include plants that are high in chloro­phyll in your diet and you’ll see a pro­found improve­ment to the health of your diges­tive sys­tem.- David Friedman, clin­i­cal nutri­tion­ist

In the study, one group of patients were treated with PPIs, while another group con­sumed a 90- to 95 per­cent whole food, plant-based, Mediterranean-style dietary reg­i­men paired with alka­line water. After six weeks, the results showed 54.1 per­cent of the PPI group expe­ri­enced a six-point decrease in their Reflux Symptom Index, while 62.6 per­cent of the dietary group expe­ri­enced the same improve­ment.

Although the patients in the study suf­fered from laryn­gopha­ryn­geal reflux (LPR), the diet should also alle­vi­ate gas­tro-esophageal acid reflux, oth­er­wise called GERD.

Lead author Craig H. Zalvan said he had pre­scribed PPIs fre­quently, but he believed there had to be a bet­ter approach to treat­ing reflux, so he started inves­ti­gat­ing alter­na­tives.

Although effec­tive in some patients, I felt med­ica­tion could­n’t be the only method to treat reflux and recent stud­ies report­ing increased rates of stroke and heart attack, demen­tia and kid­ney dam­age from pro­longed PPI use made me more cer­tain,” said Zalvan.

I saw a lot of stud­ies using plant-based diets to treat patients for many other chronic dis­eases, so I decided to develop a diet reg­i­men to treat my laryn­gopha­ryn­geal reflux patients. The results we found show we are head­ing in the right direc­tion to treat­ing reflux with­out med­ica­tion.”

The diet that pro­duced such impres­sive results included mainly fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts and grains. Dairy and meat were lim­ited to two or three serv­ings per week. Zalvan called the eat­ing plan Mediterranean in style, but it actu­ally con­tains less fish and other ani­mal food than the MedDiet.

Both groups fol­lowed the stan­dard reflux dietary pre­cau­tions of abstain­ing from tea, cof­fee, soda, choco­late and alco­hol. Spicy, fried foods and fatty foods were avoided as well.

Instead of side effects, the diet came with side ben­e­fits. Zalvan observed that many patients enjoyed some weight loss, along with a decrease in the need to take med­ica­tions for con­di­tions like high cho­les­terol and high blood pres­sure.

This study sug­gests that a plant-based diet and alka­line water should be con­sid­ered in the treat­ment of LPR. This approach may effec­tively improve symp­toms and could avoid the costs and adverse effects of phar­ma­co­log­i­cal inter­ven­tion as well as afford the addi­tional health ben­e­fits asso­ci­ated with a healthy, plant-based diet,” wrote the authors.

The study con­ducted by researchers from Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and New York Medical College was pub­lished in JAMA Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery.

In an inter­view with Olive Oil Times, David Friedman, a clin­i­cal nutri­tion­ist, explained why a plant-based diet is ben­e­fi­cial for reflux.

The stan­dard American diet is a major cause of diges­tive issues such as acid reflux (heart­burn), diver­ti­c­uli­tis, GERD and irri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome. PPIs offer only tem­po­rary relief and come with a plethora of unde­sir­able side effects.

For decades, I’ve advised my patients to eat more leafy veg­eta­bles to help them reduce gas­tric acid and improve their bowel move­ments. Being con­sti­pated is a major con­tribut­ing fac­tor because the longer food stays in the colon, the more ammo­nia it pro­duces, which in turn, cre­ates an acidic envi­ron­ment. Green leafy veg­eta­bles con­tain chloro­phyll, which cleanses and alka­lizes the stom­ach and colon,” Friedman said.

Green leafy veg­eta­bles, such as spinach, col­lard greens, and kale, are also rich in vit­a­mins and min­er­als like iron, cal­cium, and mag­ne­sium, which can help the lower esophageal sphinc­ter (LES) to prop­erly con­tract.

The LES is a mus­cle that con­nects the top of the stom­ach with the bot­tom of the esoph­a­gus. It first relaxes to allow food to enter the stom­ach and then closes tightly to keep stom­ach acid from enter­ing the esoph­a­gus. However, the LES may become weak­ened over time when you con­sume too much fried and processed foods, cit­rus juices or sugar. Include plants that are high in chloro­phyll in your diet and you’ll see a pro­found improve­ment to the health of your diges­tive sys­tem.”


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