Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
Louise Chang, MD
Anyone who has ever suffered from heartburn or acid reflux knows all too
well the discomfort and burning sensation in their chest after eating too much
or the wrong kinds of foods.
Following a heartburn diet -- one that typically eliminates alcohol,
caffeine, and spicy foods -- is usually the first line of defense. Not smoking,
sleeping with an extra pillow, medications, loose fitting clothes, and not
overeating are other measures that can reduce symptoms.
But experts say losing weight can also help, especially if you are
Studies have shown that adults (both men and women) who gain a few extra
pounds can increase their risk of heartburn – but losing weight can spell
How does excess body fat increase the risk of heartburn? The exact mechanism
is not well known, but researchers surmise that extra fat around the belly
increases the pressure on the stomach, forcing fluid up into the esophagus.
Added pressure impacts the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus,
causing it to relax and allow acidic stomach contents into the esophagus. Extra
weight can also impair the body’s ability to empty the stomach quickly.
Overeating, even among thin people, can also increase pressure on the stomach
and sphincter, as can pregnancy.
Researchers who analyzed 10,000 women in the Nurse’s Health Study found that
weight gain of 10 to 20 pounds was associated with a threefold increase in
heartburn symptoms. And when overweight people become obese, it further
heightens their risk for developing gastroesophageal reflux disease or
GERD. Obese people are nearly three times more likely than normal weight
people to have heartburn.
But losing weight can reduce a woman’s risk of heartburn by as much as 40%,
according to the Nurse’s Health Study.
Choose a heart-smart diet controlled in calories that you can stick
with. A heart-healthy diet is also heartburn healthy.
It doesn’t really matter if the diet is high in fat, high in carbs, or low
in protein, according to a study in The New England Journal of
Medicine. Researcher Frank Sacks, MD, a professor at the Harvard
School of Public Health, found little difference in weight loss when he
compared four different diet plans that all varied in nutrient composition.
The important thing is to set daily calorie goals that are right for your
age, activity level, gender, and weight loss goals. Your calorie goal should be
no lower than 1,200 calories a day, and no higher than 2,400 calories a day.
Aim for reasonable weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week.
Remember, daily physical activity can help you lose weight and reduce stress
levels. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Gardening, house
cleaning, and walking count.
No matter which diet plan you choose, these tips can help ease heartburn
while you lose weight.
The bottom line? If you are overweight, you can likely ease your heartburn
symptoms by losing some of those extra pounds. Plus you’ll boost your overall
health – and put the zip back in your step.
SOURCES:Jacobson, B.New England Journal of Medicine, June 1,
2006; vol 354: pp 2340-2348.Kaltenbach, T.Archives of Internal Medicine, May 8, 2006;
vol 166: pp 965-971.Hampel, H. Annals of Internal Medicine, Aug. 2, 2005; vol 143:
pp 199-211.Murray, L. International Journal of Epidemiology, August 2003;vol 32:
pp 645-650.Sacks, F. New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 26, 2009; vol 360: pp
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