Researchers set out to investigate how a dietary shift to a plant-based diet would compare to antacid medications for relieving acid reflux. (1,2)
The study involved 200 patients who had laryngopharyngeal reflux – a condition in which the stomach acid backs up into the throat. This acid back-up causes irritation, chronic sore throat, persistent coughing, excessive throat clearing and/or feeling a lump in the throat. Those that are diagnosed with this rarely have the feeling of heartburn, as the irritation is in the throat. It is sometimes called “silent reflux.”
In Western medicine, this type of reflux is often treated with antacid medications known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium. While these can offer some symptomatic relief, they rarely address the cause.
Long-term use of PPIs has been linked to a slight increased risk of heart attack, kidney disease, dementia and bone density issues. (1,2)
A Plant-Based Diet
The study participants were encouraged to eat a 90% plant-based diet that included fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and alkaline water. No refined, fried or processed foods were allowed, and avoiding acid-rich tea and coffee was suggested. Meat and dairy were limited to only 10% of the diet. (1,2)
This diet is similar to the diets of centenarians, who live to 100 or more years of age. According to Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones of Happiness, centenarian communities eat very little animal products – limiting to just 10% of the diet. Meat is more of a celebratory food and, on average, only five small servings are enjoyed per month.
After six weeks on a plant-based diet, 63% of patients on the diet were showing a clinically significant 6-point drop on a scale called the Reflux Symptom Index, while only 54% of antacid medication patients saw the same result. The plant-based group lost an average of 8 pounds, which may have also contributed to the reduction of reflux symptoms. (1,2)
The results of this study suggest that a plant-based, vegetarian-leaning diet may outperform antacid medications for symptoms of reflux.