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A Mostly Vegetarian Diet May Help Treat Acid Reflux, Study Says

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A vegetarian diet – or at least one that mostly consists of vegetables – may help provide relief to people with acid reflux, in the same manner medicines do, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined nearly 200 patients at a medical center who had been diagnosed with laryngopharyngeal reflux. The condition happens when stomach acids chronically back up into the throat, and is more commonly known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, or what people call heartburn, UPI reports.

Dr. Craig Zalvan, the lead researcher on the study and chief of otolaryngology at Northwell Health System’s Phelps Hospital, in Sleepy Hollow, New York, explained that people with GERD don’t usually have heartburn. Symptoms of the condition include hoarseness, chronic sore throat, persistent coughing, excessive throat clearing and the feeling of having a lump in the throat.

The problem is often treated with medicines called proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, which include over-the-counter drugs such as Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium. These ranks as some of the best-selling medicines in the United States, the study says.

Zalvan said that PPIs do help people with laryngopharyngeal reflux, and he himself used to prescribe them regularly. However, it soon became apparent that the drugs were not working on many patients, and studies started to show that PPIs were not as safe as previously thought.

PPIs have been linked to slightly increased risks of developing heart attack, kidney disease, dementia and bone fractures, though the studies did not determine the drugs to be the direct cause.

This led to a “dietary approach” to curing GERD, Zalvan said.

Based on research, he began recommending the Mediterranean diet to patients, which encourages plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Meat and dairy products were limited to just two or three small servings weekly, Zalvan said.

He likewise advised patients to cut back on coffee, tea, alcohol, fried or fatty foods. Then his team looked at patient records to compare how the diet worked in comparison to PPIs, focusing on 85 patients who had been treated with PPIs from 2010 and 2012, and 99 patients who had been told to go “90% vegetarian.”

After six weeks, 63% of the patients on the Mediterranean diet showed at least a six-point drop on the reflux symptom index, which is considered a “clinically meaningful” improvement, according to Zalvan. This was higher than 54% of patients on PPIs.

In addition, patients in the diet group lost an average of eight pounds, which may have accounted for some of the symptom improvement, although there’s no way to tell how much the weight loss helped versus the diet itself.

The study was published in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery.  

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