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Even a Little Weight Gain – or Loss -- Can Affect Your Heartburn

Even a few extra pounds increases your risk of heartburn. Losing weight can bring fast relief.

Lose Weight, Lose the Heartburn

Another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that weight loss and elevating the head of the bed are the most effective lifestyle interventions for reducing heartburn.

Lauren Gerson, MD, MSc, director of the Esophageal and Small Bowel Disorders Center at Stanford University School of Medicine, and her colleagues, evaluated 16 clinical trials looking at the impact of lifestyle changes on heartburn, including:

  • Losing weight.
  • Avoiding foods and drinks that trigger heartburn.
  • Changing sleeping position.
  • Avoiding late-night eating.
  • Avoiding cigarettes.

"The only thing that matters is losing weight and elevating the head of the bed," she says. While changing the other habits might improve the acid levels in the esophagus, there was not enough evidence that changing them also improved heartburn.

Gerson set out to do the study after patients referred to her complained that despite following a bland diet their heartburn symptoms didn't improve. "People were very annoyed that their diets were so limited and their heartburn [was] no better."

If certain spicy foods or some beverages are known to trigger your heartburn, of course, it's wise to avoid them, she tells patients. But for those whose heartburn gets no better with a bland diet, she has a simple two-step plan:

  • Lose weight.
  • Elevate the head of the bed.

"Being overweight is an independent risk factor for heartburn," Gerson says. So if your heartburn isn't improving despite several lifestyle changes, maybe it's time to talk with your doctor about a sensible weight loss and exercise plan to get you below a BMI of 25.

Reviewed on September 01, 2006

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