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).
Weight Gain and Acid Reflux: What’s The Connection?
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.
Obesity-Related GERD May Be Worse For Women
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.
The Solution: Drop The Weight To Find Relief From GERD Symptoms
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!
6 Tips To Lose Weight And Lose That Heartburn!
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.
- Reduce your caloric intake. Sadly, there is no magic potion for instant weight loss. Losing weight is simple science – reduce the number of calories you eat every day, increase the number of calories you burn every day, and the caloric deficit created will result in weight loss. Talk to a dietician or nutritionist to chart out a GERD-friendly diet that creates this caloric deficient without leaving you starving all day long.
- Once you know how many calories you should eat every day, divide these into smaller, more frequent meals. While a dietician will possibly give you a diet chart to take care of this, you can play around yourself to create meals that fit best into your life. The idea is the keep portion sizes small to avoid overeating. Also, read through our tips for dining out with acid reflux.
- Create an effective workout regimeso you can burn more calories every day. Yes, cardio workouts do help burn off calories, which will help you lose weight. But don’t ignore weight and resistant training. Training your muscles helps gain muscle mass, which in turn increases your metabolism and helps burn off stored fats. It also helps insulin sensitivity, which is a big plus! Aim for 30-45 minutes of Cardio workout thrice a week – try walking, jogging, swimming, cycling or join a class for Zumba, Barre or Aerobics. Combine this with weight training 2-3 times a week to build lean muscle mass and shed body weight for good.
- Since your increased weight may have caused more frequent heartburn episodes, completely eliminate all heartburn trigger foods from your diet for the time being. This includes fatty foods, acidic foods and spicy foods. You may be able to reintroduce these foods into your diet once you’ve lost the weight and reversed acid reflux for good.
- Make sure your last meal is at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. Lying down immediately after a meal worsens acid reflux, as a supine position encourages stomach contents to travel back up the esophagus. For this very reason, skip late night snacks completely.
- Eat slowly. Digestion begins in the mouth, and when you chew your food properly, your stomach has to work less hard to digest the food. Eating slow gives the stomach enough time to signal to the brain that you’re full (it takes 20 minutes for the brain to realize you’re full!!!) which prevents overeating. Challenge yourself to make each meal last up to 30 minutes. Use a timer if necessary!
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.