If you suffer from acid reflux and turn to medication for relief, new research indicates that a change in diet is more effective in reducing that burning sensation than drugs, but without the side effects.
People with laryngopharyngeal reflux – acid that travels up the esophagus to reach the throat – that closely followed a Mediterranean diet saw a better improvement in reflux symptoms than those who were taking proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), a common class of medication used for acid reflux, according to a new study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.
PPIs are available over-the-counter and by prescription, and are also extensively used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Some of the most popular ones are Nexium (esomeprazole), Prilosec (omeprazole) and Prevacid (lansoprazole).
The Mediterranean diet is plant and whole foods-based, and focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts. Dairy and animal products – such as beef, chicken and pork — are largely cut out. If you have acid reflux, you should also avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, carbonated drinks and greasy, fatty and fried foods.
Researchers enrolled 184 people with laryngopharyngeal reflux. Participants either received a PPI and standard advice to reduce reflux or were treated with a 90% plant-based, Mediterranean diet, alkaline water and standard advice.
About 63% of those on the Mediterranean diet achieved a meaningful reduction in reflux symptoms, compared to 54% who took a PPI, results showed. The average reduction in the Reflux Symptom Index for those who changed their diet was 40%. For those who took a PPI, it was 27%.
The study’s lead author, Craig H. Zalvan, MD, medical director of The Institute for Voice and Swallowing Disorders at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, NY, used to be one of the biggest prescribers of PPIs in the area. But he thought there had to be a better treatment for reflux and through research, developed a plant-based diet for some of his patients.
“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,” Zalvan said in a statement. “The results we found show we are heading in the right direction to treating reflux without medication.”
A study earlier this year found that people taking PPIs for at least 5 years had a higher risk of developing kidney disease and kidney injury than those taking H2 blockers, such as Pepcid (famotidine) and Zantac (ranitidine). And a study released in 2016 found that those who regularly take PPIs are more likely to see their bones weaken than those who weren’t taking the drugs.
Use of PPIs over long periods of time has also been associated with pneumonia, fractures of the hip, wrist and spine, and iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies, according to the FDA.
Jonathan Block is MedShadow’s content editor. He has previously worked for Psychiatry Advisor, Modern Healthcare, Health Reform Week and The Pink Sheet.