Every year, Americans spend nearly $13 billion on both over the counter and prescription meds to relive their acid reflux. In fact, it’s one of the most common health complaints among Americans, and the drugs used to relieve it are among the nation’s best-selling meds.1
However, the truth is that for some forms of the condition, like LPR, simply changing one’s diet is just as effective as taking PPI’s (proton pump inhibitors). And diet change comes with zero side effects.
“In a new study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, researchers found that for people with acid reflux that affects the throat, a Mediterranean diet—one rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes—was just as effective as PPIs in treating their symptoms.”2
Reflux comes in two forms: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and LPR. GERD is triggered by too much acid in the stomach and lower esophagus and comes with burning pain in the chest, bloating, and discomfort in the gut.3 The other type of reflux involves the upper part of the throat and pharynx (back of the mouth).
For the study, lead author Dr. Craig Zalvan, medical director of the Institute for voice and swallowing disorders at Phelps Hospital of Northwell Health in New York, looked at people who had LPR, or laryngopharyngeal reflux. The condition happens when pepsin, a digestive enzyme from the stomach, reaches the sensitive tissues there.4 (Acid damage can cause symptoms like throat clearing, a feeling that something is lodged in the throat, hoarseness, and trouble swallowing).
Of the participants, 85 were treated with PPIs and 99 were treated via a Mediterranean diet and alkaline water (which can neutralize excess acid). However, all participants were told to avoid reflux triggers, like coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, greasy and fatty foods, spicy foods and alcohol.
After six weeks, those who had changed their diet reported similar reductions in symptoms as those who used the drugs. In fact, those on the Mediterranean diet reported a slightly greater percent decline in symptoms (a standardized reflux scale was used to measure all participants).
That was enough for Zalvan although he plans to conduct more studies to determine whether the plant-based diet or the alkaline water are contributing more to the relief of symptoms. He also plans to study people with GERD on a Mediterranean diet to see if it can help relieve their symptoms, too.
While the study didn’t exactly explain how a Mediterranean diet and alkaline water relieve reflux, it makes sense: alkaline water can neutralize pepsin’s acidity in the throat, and plant-based proteins tend to produce less pepsin.
“Zalvan has already recommended a more plant-based diet for his patients with LPR, and while the switch is difficult for some, it’s worth it for people who have suffered from reflux for years, he says. In addition, Zalvan says that studies have not really confirmed that PPI medications are effective in treating LPR. In fact, some studies find that the drugs are not appropriate for anywhere from 40% to 80% of people.”5
We applaud a doctor for even doing a study like this. Most physicians might think that because the drugs work and a diet change could be difficult, that it’s not worth it. However, the general consensus is that PPI’s are relatively safe, they have been liked to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and early death.