Following This One Diet Beats Acid Reflux Better Than Medication, Says Science

Updated: Sep. 18, 2017

Make this lifestyle change and you might never have to take traditional medication for your acid reflux again.

acidrefluxCHAjAMP/ShutterstockA Mediterranean-style diet is often recommended by nutritionists for cardiovascular health—one study suggests it could cut your risk of having a heart attack, stroke or dying from heart disease by about 30 percent. New research finds that the healthy approach to eating has benefits that go beyond the heart.

A study by researchers from Northwell Health’s The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and New York Medical College, published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head Neck Surgery found that a plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet provides the same medical benefits as popular reflux medications in treating laryngopharyngeal reflux—the chronic backup of acidic gastric fluid into the upper digestive tract, causing a burning sensation. The researchers found that compared to patients who took the traditional medication, proton pump inhibitors (PPI), patients whose diet was 90 to 95 percent whole foods and plants—paired with alkaline water—had the same or better reduction in their symptoms. Nearly 63 percent of patients following the dietary approach saw a six-point reduction in their Reflux Symptom Index (which measures the severity of symptoms), compared to 54.1 percent reduction in patients taking PPIs. While the research only focused on those with laryngopharyngeal reflux, the same diet plan could also benefit patients with gastro-esophageal acid reflux (also known as GERD, this is traditional chronic heartburn). Look out for six silent signs of GERD.

This modified version of the Mediterranean diet consists of mostly fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts with virtually no meats or dairy products; that’s in addition to following standard reflux diet guidelines like avoiding coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, greasy and fried food, spicy foods, fatty foods, and alcohol. As well as easing reflux symptoms, some patients lost weight and experienced a reduction in their symptoms from other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Lead author of the study, Craig H. Zalvan, MD, FACS, chief of Otolaryngology and medical director of The Institute for Voice and Swallowing Disorders at Northwell Health’s Phelps Hospital and researcher at the Feinstein Institute, explained to ScienceDaily what motivated the research: “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,” he says. “I did research and 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.”

Feeling inspired? Here’s how to make your diet more Mediterranean.