A Low-Carb Diet Improves Acid Reflux

Healthnotes Newswire (September 28, 2006)—As the excitement over low-carbohydrate diets finds its balance, it is interesting to note that a growing body of evidence suggests that these diets might help with more than weight loss. One recent study found that a low-carb diet might relieve acid reflux in obese people.

The goal of the Atkins Diet—the first well-known low-carb diet of recent times—is to stabilize blood sugar (glucose) levels by restricting the foods that are readily digested into glucose: carbohydrates. When the diet is low in carbohydrates, the body breaks down fat and protein stores to produce glucose for energy.

The Atkins Diet has been used with some degree of effectiveness by people with obesity, and by people with diabetes whose high blood glucose levels were not responsive to other diets. In the past 10 to 15 years, other low-carbohydrate diets loosely based on the Atkins Diet have become popular because of their promises of rapid weight loss.

In the new study, published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, eight obese people with acid reflux started a low-carbohydrate diet. The diet relied on meat, eggs, hard cheeses, and nonstarchy vegetables to restrict carbohydrates to 20 grams per day (the amount found in a typical bowl of cereal or one and a half slices of bread).

After being on the diet for three to six days, the people reported fewer symptoms of acid reflux, including burning pain in the chest and throat, acid or sour taste in the mouth, nausea, and bloating and fullness after eating. Measurements of acidity in the lower esophagus revealed that the episodes of high acidity, which are expected immediately after eating, were significantly shorter while the people were on the diet. The shorter exposure to high acid levels might explain in part the reduction in acid reflux symptoms.

While these preliminary results are promising, the small size of the study makes it premature to come to any broad conclusions. “We are currently planning a larger study with a control arm to assess whether these findings are specific to a low-carbohydrate diet,” the authors write in their report.

“I think these results are interesting but a longer study with more participants would be needed before I would change my recommendations,” said Julianne Forbes, ND, adding, “I encourage my patients to reduce refined carbohydrates and increase fiber but I don’t generally recommend the large amount of animal protein and fat that was used in this study. Basic things like not overeating, not lying down too soon after eating, avoiding alcohol, mint, coffee, and chocolate, and using slippery elm lozenges are usually helpful for people with acid reflux.”

(Dig Dis Sci 2006;51:1307–12)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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