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Acid Reflux and Weight Loss: What Studies Say

<p>Acid Reflux and Weight Loss: What Studies Say</p>
Dr. Constance Odom, MD Picture of Dr. Constance Odom, MD

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Written by our editorial team.

Last Edited 4 min read

Acid reflux is not a fun condition, to say the least. It produces heartburn, belching, and in some cases, vomiting. But a growing body of evidence has found a distinct link between acid reflux and weight loss.

But what is acid reflux? According to experts, acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux Disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid comes back into the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. Although it is often called acid reflux or heartburn, GERD is not associated with the heart and thus comes with its own set of symptoms.

  While many people experience acid reflux on occasion, others must deal with it on a regular basis. Although it is rare, some people may require surgery to treat GERD’s symptoms. Symptoms of acid reflux include heartburn or a burning in your chest. This burning typically shows up painful after you eat or while you are lying down.

Those with GERD may also experience something called backwash. Backwash is a regurgitation of sour liquid or food, which comes back up. 

Trouble swallowing or Dysphasia is another common symptom of GERD. Those with GERD may also have an ongoing cough. Other symptoms of GERD include:

  • The feeling of a lump in your throat

  • Upper abdominal or chest pain

  • Laryngitis or inflammation of the vocal cords

  • New or worsening asthma

According to experts, suffering from acid reflux can cause you to lose weight unintentionally. Those who have acid reflux or GERD may experience vomiting, nausea, or difficulty when they try to swallow. It can get to the point that you don’t eat as much as you normally would. As time goes by, it may become more and more difficult to eat as pain builds up. 

When your food intake is limited because of a buildup of pain, you can unintentionally lose weight, often without realizing it is happening. Having acid reflux can lead some people to avoid certain foods, specifically foods containing acid, such as tomato sauce and alcohol. Both of these have the ability to irritate the stomach and cause heartburn. Acidic foods are also bad for your teeth. 

Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter muscle at the esophagus “that closes off the stomach” becomes weakened or is placed under pressure. As a result, stomach acid moves upward, often leading to a bitter taste in the mouth, a hoarse voice, and potentially a dry cough. Bleeding in the digestive tract may also occur. Tar-like colored stools and vomit that resembles coffee grounds are hallmark signs of acid reflux or GERD. 

Acid reflux can lead to changes in the esophagus. The surface of the esophagus may change, resulting in a change in the cells that line the lower esophagus. This is known as Barrett’s esophagus. With Barrett's Esophagus, tissue resembling the intestinal lining forms and replaces normal tissue lining the esophagus.  

Studies have found that carrying around extra weight raises your chances of developing acid reflux, a chronic, but treatable condition. When someone has acid reflux or GERD, the contents of their stomach come back into the food pipe. Acid reflux affects roughly 20 percent of the American population, according to experts at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). 

How does acid reflux lead to weight loss specifically?

Symptoms of acid reflux affect one’s eating habits and preferences. Someone with acid reflux may avoid foods that trigger heartburn and reflux symptoms. In some cases, individuals may avoid high calorie foods, such as pizza, simply because they cause discomfort. Eventually, this reduction in food intake and lack of certain foods cause you to lose weight. If left untreated, acid reflux can get extreme. It may get to the point that simply eating can become an effort. Studies link acid reflux to esophageal cancer and other conditions. 

How does weight impact acid reflux?

According to experts, being overweight is a huge risk factor for the development of acid reflux. Extra weight is a particular concern when it comes to excess abdominal fat. Also called visceral fat, fat that accumulates around the stomach considerably affects your overall health. Fat that accumulates in this area causes inflammatory hormones to be released. 

This in itself raises your risk of developing GERD-related complications. In addition to having abdominal fat, those with this condition often have other conditions, such as esophageal motion disorders, increased abdominal pressure, and an increased stomach size. According to experts, losing weight is one of the best ways to treat acid reflux. However, losing too much weight can lead to malnutrition. Although being overweight can cause problems with acid reflux, eating too little has consequences, too.

If you are underweight, this can have a significant impact on your health. Being underweight is associated with death. The risk of death from being underweight increases with age, and your overall death risk increases as you get older. A study conducted by PubMed found that being underweight also raises your risk of developing certain conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. 

The goal of this study was to determine whether being underweight was a significant risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Stroke, myocardial infarction, and coronary artery disease were all possible outcomes of being underweight. According to WebMD, losing weight may help treat your acid reflux, but you must also be careful. 

Recent studies have shown that adults who gain a few pounds have an increased risk of experiencing heartburn. When you have heartburn, you don’t feel like eating. Many people who have acid reflux find that they have trouble sleeping at night. They may also throw up at all hours of the night, and they are often unable to get back to sleep.

This can lead to sleep deprivation that affects all aspects of your life and health. Weight lost from acid reflux or GERD is not necessarily a good thing, especially because your overall health is compromised. Studies have found that weight and heartburn are related. Scientists don’t know exactly why this happens, but one theory is that extra fat around the abdomen puts pressure on the stomach, often leading to liquid being forced up into the esophagus. 

This extra pressure is believed to cause many problems. However, having extra weight can impact the stomach’s ability to empty itself properly. Gastric emptying may be slowed due to this excess weight. This increases your risk of developing other conditions. However, losing weight can significantly decrease a woman’s chances of getting heartburn by roughly 40 percent.

Many people decide to start a weight loss plan to reduce heartburn. One of the best diets for acid reflux is one that includes heart healthy foods, such as lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the diet is high in carbs, fat, or “low in protein.” A study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine found that weight loss was the same from all of these diets. 

This study found an equal amount of weight loss among all participants in the study, especially when combined with regular physical activity. With an acid reflux diet, it is important to focus on calorie count. Choose a calorie allowance that is appropriate for your age, gender, level of activity, and your goals for weight loss. Bear in mind that you should not consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day. 

Ideally, you don’t want to consume more than 2,400 calories per day, and set a goal to lose between one and two pounds each week. A healthy lifestyle is essential to a heart healthy diet for heartburn. It’s important to cut out foods that trigger heartburn. Spicy foods and coffee in particular can cause acid reflux and should be avoided. 

You can remove these foods from your diet right away, or you can slowly wean yourself off of them after you’ve lost the amount of weight you wanted to lose. Chocolate can also be problematic. It may be wise to cut these foods immediately. However, you can reintroduce them into your diet at a later time. When you avoid foods like these, you are eliminating extra calories that can lead to excess weight gain. 

This facilitates weight loss and may make it easier to manage your acid reflux. By consuming healthy foods and cutting out problematic and acidic foods, you are adopting a healthy diet that leads to adequate nutrition. 

According to Healthline, being overweight can lead to a host of health issues, including fatigue, depression, and some diseases. By cutting out unhealthy foods and adopting a healthy lifestyle, you can manage and even improve your acid reflux. While acid reflux never goes away, it can be managed with proper care and lifestyle modifications. 

A recent study followed and studied 332 obese adults. The study required participants to make changes to their diet, increased their physical activity, and utilized behavioral weight loss strategies. After a period of six months, 97 percent of participants had lost weight. Participants lost an average of 29 pounds.

If you are overweight and suffer from GERD, it may be worthwhile to consult your doctor about a diet that minimizes your acid reflux symptoms. 



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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.