Barrett’s esophagus is a change in the lining of the tube (esophagus) that connects your mouth and stomach. Having this condition means that tissue in the esophagus has changed to a type of tissue that is found in the intestine.
Barrett’s esophagus is thought to be caused by long-term acid reflux or heartburn. Acid reflux is also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In this common condition, stomach acid splashes upward into the bottom part of the esophagus. Over time, the acid can irritate and change the tissues lining the esophagus.
Barrett’s is not serious by itself and doesn’t have any symptoms. However, it may be a sign that you also have other cell changes that can cause cancer in the esophagus.
About 10 to 15 percent of people with acid reflux develop Barrett’s esophagus. Your risk of getting cancer due to Barrett’s esophagus is even lower. Only 0.5 percent of people with Barrett’s are diagnosed with esophageal cancer per year.
Being diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus should not cause alarm. If you have this condition, there are two main health issues to focus on:
- treating and controlling acid reflux to prevent this condition from getting worse
- preventing cancers of the esophagus
There is no specific diet for Barrett’s esophagus. However, there are certain foods that can help control acid reflux and lower your risk of cancer. Other lifestyle changes may also help reduce acid reflux and prevent esophageal cancers.
Getting plenty of fiber in your daily diet is good for your overall health. Medical research shows that it may also help prevent Barrett’s esophagus from worsening and lower your risk of cancer in the esophagus.
Add these and other fiber-rich foods to your daily diet:
- fresh, frozen, and dried fruit
- fresh and frozen vegetables
- whole grain breads and pasta
- brown rice
- fresh and dried herbs
A 2017 clinical study found that eating too many refined sugary foods may increase the risk of Barrett’s esophagus. This may happen because too much sugar in the diet causes your blood sugar levels to spike. This leads to high levels of the hormone insulin, which may increase the risk of some tissue changes and cancers.
A high-sugar and carbohydrate diet may also cause excess weight gain and obesity. Avoid or limit added sugars and simple, refined carbohydrates such as:
- table sugar or sucrose
- glucose, dextrose, and maltose
- corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup
- white breads, flour, pasta, and rice
- baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries)
- boxed cereals and breakfast bars
- potato chips and crackers
- sugary drinks and fruit juices
- ice cream
- flavored coffee beverages
Foods that trigger acid reflux
Controlling your acid reflux with diet and other treatment may help to prevent Barrett’s esophagus from getting worse.
Your trigger foods for acid reflux might vary. Common foods that cause heartburn include fried foods, spicy foods, fatty foods, and some beverages.
Here are some common foods to limit or avoid if you have acid reflux or Barrett’s:
- milk and dairy
- tomatoes, tomato sauce, and ketchup
- french fries
- battered fish
- onion rings
- red meat
- processed meats
- hot dogs
- hot sauce
There are several lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent cancers of the esophagus. This is especially important if you have Barrett’s esophagus. Healthy changes that prevent acid reflux and other factors that irritate the lining of the esophagus may help to keep this condition under control.
Cigarette and hookah smoking irritates your esophagus and leads to ingestion of cancer-causing chemicals. According to several medical studies, smoking increases your risk for esophageal cancer by up to five times.
Drinking any type of alcohol — beer, wine, brandy, whiskey — increases your risk of esophageal cancers. Research shows that alcohol can increase the chances of this cancer by up to 7.4 times, depending on how much you drink.
Excess weight is one of the biggest risk factors for acid reflux, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancers. If you’re overweight, your risk of cancer may be up to three times higher.
Considering other factors
These lifestyle factors can also increase your risk for esophageal cancer:
- poor dental health
- not eating enough fruit and vegetables
- drinking hot tea and other hot drinks
- eating excess red meat
Preventing acid reflux
Lifestyle factors that help you control acid reflux may also help maintain Barrett’s esophagus and reduce the risk of cancer. Avoid these factors if you have acid reflux or Barrett’s esophagus:
- eating late at night
- eating large meals
- taking blood-thinning medications such as aspirin
- lying flat while sleeping
If you have Barrett’s esophagus, changes to your diet and lifestyle can help keep this condition in check and prevent cancers of the esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus is not a serious condition. However, esophageal cancers can be deadly.
See your doctor for regular check-ups to monitor the condition to make sure it hasn’t progressed. Your doctor may look at the esophagus with a tiny camera called an endoscope. You may also need a biopsy of the area. This involves taking a sample of the tissue with a needle and sending it to a lab.
Control your acid reflux to help improve your overall quality of life. Find out what foods trigger your acid reflux by keeping a food and symptom journal. Also try eliminating certain foods to see if your heartburn improves. Talk to your doctor about the best diet and treatment plan for your acid reflux.