Lifestyle Changes May Be the Future of Heartburn Relief

Author
Alicia Betz
April 21, 2021

Medications are wonderful and can be life-changing when they work well with limited side effects. For many of us though, we want as little medication in our bodies as possible. Starting just one new medication can lead to a vicious cycle where you continually need more medications to cover up the side effects of other medications. 

When it comes to heartburn, many people need a combination of lifestyle changes and medication to manage their symptoms. Even then, it’s difficult to completely eradicate symptoms of heartburn. Common symptoms include a burning feeling in the chest and a sour taste in the mouth. 

Those who suffer from heartburn — one of the main symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — know that finding remedies and relief is important. Sufferers aren’t alone either; 30 percent of people in the United States suffer from some type of heartburn.

Many people who suffer from heartburn took the medication Zantac, however new dangerous side effects (a cancer causing chemical was found in the drug) were discovered and last year the medication was recalled completely from the market.

New Research on Heartburn

According to new research, lifestyle changes can make an even bigger difference for heartburn than previously thought. The study examined information from over 42,000 women and showed that five specific lifestyle factors can have a significant impact on heartburn. 

The study was conducted via the Nurses’ Health Study II, which is an ongoing cohort study that began in 1989. The participants in the study regularly responded to questionnaires, which included information about heartburn in 2005, 2009, 2013, and 2017. The women were aged 42-62 years during the time of the study. 

According to the new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, five lifestyle changes may be the answer. 

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Five Lifestyle Changes

Doctors have long advised lifestyle changes to reduce symptoms of heartburn, but this is the first study with such clear support for these changes. The five lifestyle factors the authors of the study reported are:

  1. Maintaining a Normal Weight: When people are overweight, the extra pressure in their midsection can push acid up, causing heartburn. In this study, normal weight was classified as a body mass index (BMI) of 24 or below. The study found this parameter was the most important lifestyle factor, and that participants who maintained a normal weight saw the greatest benefit. 
  2. Never Smoking: Healthcare providers have long noted smoking as a potential trigger for heartburn; quitting smoking relaxes the esophageal sphincter.  
  3. Physical Activity: The study found that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day had the greatest impact. This might include a brisk walk, doing heavy yard work, or playing a sport like tennis. 
  4. Restricting Coffee, Tea, and Soda: The advised limit found in the study is no more than two cups per day. Caffeine has long been identified as a potential trigger for heartburn. 
  5. Following a “Prudent” Diet: When it comes to diet, one of the most common recommendations is to eat smaller meals and limit foods known to be a personal trigger. Other recommendations include limiting red meat and added sugars as well as eating higher amounts of whole grains.   

The Future of Heartburn Treatment

The study purported that women who adopt all five lifestyle changes could see a reduction in heartburn symptoms by 37 percent. Statistical analysis showed that the more lifestyle factors the women followed, the fewer their symptoms. Even if people only adopt one change, they’re likely to see additional changes. For example, increasing physical activity might lead to weight loss. The extent of the improvement could even mean dropping medication for some people. 

In the past, recommendations to change lifestyle to improve symptoms of GERD were based less on evidence. The recommendations made sense and many people saw improvements when implementing them, but there weren’t solid studies to back that up. 

The lifestyle changes in the study were so effective that they matched the typical effectiveness of common heartburn medications. Now that this study has provided concrete evidence for these lifestyle factors, healthcare providers may be able to help their patients better control heartburn. It’s possible that patients will adhere to these recommendations more strictly now that they are backed by science. 

For patients who aren’t able to successfully follow all lifestyle changes, incorporating just one lifestyle change along with a traditional heartburn medication may be beneficial as well. People who aren’t able to find complete relief on medication alone will be happy about this finding.

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