Heartburn is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable gastric issues that one can face. A burning sensation that takes over the abdomen and moves towards the chest, heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) is completely preventable.
In fact, a longstanding study of diet, lifestyle, and health has found that by adhering to specific dietary guidelines, women can reduce more than one-third of the incidence of symptoms.
The findings from the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the longest-running studies of women’s health, show that five diet and lifestyle factors—including regular exercise—can make a significant impact on heartburn symptoms. They were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
GERD is a common condition, with heartburn as its main symptom. Often managed with medications like antacids, this new study suggests that following diet and lifestyle guidelines could make medication unnecessary for some patients.
1. Normal weight
2. Never smoking
3. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for at least 30 minutes daily
4. Restricting coffee, tea and sodas to two cups daily
5. A “prudent” diet
“This study provides evidence that common and debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms could be well controlled in many cases with diet and lifestyle modifications alone,” says Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH, the study’s senior author.
“Given that there are long-term health effects of GERD and lingering concerns about the side effects of medications used to treat it, lifestyle should be considered the best option for controlling symptoms,” he adds.
The researchers created a statistical model that allowed them to calculate the “population-attributable risk” for GERD symptoms associated with each of the five anti-reflux lifestyle factors. In other words, they estimated how likely it was that each lifestyle factor lowered risk of experiencing symptoms. They found that following all these guidelines could reduce GERD symptoms overall by 37%.
The more of the specific guidelines a woman followed, the lower her risk of symptoms. Among women using common heartburn treatments, adhering to the guidelines also reduced symptoms.
“We were particularly interested in the effectiveness of physical activity,” says Chan.
“This is one of the first studies that has demonstrated its effectiveness in controlling GERD.” This effect, he suggests, could be due in part to exercise’s effect on the motility of the digestive tract. “Being physically active may help with the clearance of stomach acid which causes heartburn symptoms,” he says.