Gained some weight recently? Have you also noticed that your heartburn symptoms have worsened ever since you gained weight? Here’s what you probably didn’t know – the two are very much connected, and dropping the excess weight will bring you relief from acid reflux.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD, also commonly known as Heartburn, is a common digestive disorder. It’s characterized by a painful, burning sensation in the chest that’s caused by stomach acids flowing back up the esophagus. The cause is a faulty Lower Esophageal Sphincter or LES – a muscular lid between the esophagus and the stomach that normally shuts off tightly to keep stomach contents from traveling back up. In people suffering from acid reflux, the LES doesn’t shut off tightly or may not be functioning properly, allowing stomach acids and undigested food to travel into the esophagus, causing that burn.
And, while GERD symptoms are triggered by eating heartburn-inducing foods, research has found an association between increasing body mass index (BMI) and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
A lot of research has been done to find the connection between weight gain and acid reflux, and all the findings point in one direction — weight gain worsens acid reflux symptoms. Scientists have found that excess abdominal fat exerts reverse pressure on the stomach, which pushes the LES open, sloshing acid back up the esophagus. A study done at The Chinese University of Hong Kong discovered abnormal LES function post-eating in overweight and obesity subjects, establishing a direct connection between obesity and GERD. This is the main reason why temporary weight gain during pregnancy also causes heartburn.
An important study done in 2006 at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, which randomly selected participants in the Nurses’ Health Study, proved that BMI is associated with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease in both normal-weight and overweight women. Even moderate weight gain among persons of normal weight may cause or exacerbate symptoms of reflux. This study ascertains that being overweight and obesity are risk factors for symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, but it also makes clear why you may be noticing a worsening in your acid reflux episodes even though you’re a normal-weight person who has only gained a moderate amount of weight recently. The study also found that losing weight can reduce risk by 40%.
There may be another reason why obesity worsens acid reflux symptoms — Overeating. Eating too much food also increases the reverse pressure exerted on the LES. If you are overweight, chances are that you have a large appetite and are also more prone to eating the wrong kinds of food, worsening heartburn symptoms.
While both men and women who gain extra weight notice an increase in their heartburn risk and symptoms, the problem may be worsened for women because of pesky hormones. A Swedish study designed to evaluate the relation between BMI and GERD symptoms and determine how this relation is influenced by female sex hormones found something interesting. The association between body mass and acid reflux symptoms was found to be stronger among women, especially those who are premenopausal. Researchers also found that use of hormone therapy strengthens this association, suggesting that estrogen may play an important role in the cause of acid reflux disease.
Since gaining weight, especially excess abdominal fat, may be the main reason why your heartburn symptoms have worsened, losing that weight may be a best way to find relief. In fact, a study published in Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found that weight loss has an independent beneficial effect on the symptoms of GERD in overweight patients.
Losing weight can spell relief for your acid reflux symptoms. But here’s some good news for you — losing just 10% of your weight (which does sound rather reasonable, don’t you think?) can bring significant relief from GERD symptoms and can also reduce the frequency of acid reflux attacks!
Just as the above-mentioned study proved, the best way to lose weight is to use a combination of dietary modifications, exercise and behavioral changes, which will result in long-term healthy weight maintenance too. Remember, yo-yo dieting results in cyclical loss and gain of weight, which only wreaks havoc on your body. The best way to lose the weight and keep it off is to change your eating behavior and practices, so that you don’t have to keep dealing with obesity-related GERD time and again.
Losing weight at any age is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make. Not only will it bring relief from acid reflux, it will also reduce risk for other health complications.