Being overweight is linked to many health issues. These include depression, fatigue, and an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease. Another health problem related to excess weight is acid reflux, or heartburn. Understanding the link between excess pounds and acid reflux can help you take measures to maintain your weight. This can provide relief for your heartburn.
Acid reflux is a common ailment. At least 15 million people in the United States experience daily heartburn symptoms. Regular cases of heartburn may be a symptom of a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is commonly referred to as acid reflux. But it’s a more chronic condition that requires medical treatment to reduce esophageal damage.
Contrary to the name, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. Instead, the name comes from the burning sensations that occur around your chest and upper gastrointestinal tract. These burning sensations happen when stomach acids leak back into the esophagus. This discomfort can last up to two hours at a time.
Heartburn can happen to anyone once in a while. GERD, however, causes symptoms at least twice per week. Aside from the classic burning sensations, GERD may also cause:
- a bitter taste in your mouth
- excessive belching
- sore throat
- swallowing difficulties
Whether you suffer from the occasional or ongoing form of acid reflux, weight can play a factor.
Occasional heartburn can happen to anyone, but being overweight is one of the most common causes of GERD. In fact, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy identifies obesity as the leading cause of frequent heartburn. Excess weight increases abdominal pressure, making stomach acid leakage or backflow more likely.
Tight clothing can also aggravate symptoms of heartburn. Losing weight can help alleviate acid reflux, and it can make your clothing looser as another form of treatment.
Being overweight is the biggest risk factor associated with GERD. Temporary weight gain, such as during pregnancy, can also cause heartburn. In such cases, the symptoms generally clear up once you get back to a normal weight.
Acid reflux may also aggravate and cause other health conditions, such as:
- chest pain
- chronic cough
- sore throat
- vocal cord tumors
Your diet can also play a role in acid reflux. The following foods are known to aggravate GERD:
- carbonated drinks
- citrus foods (including fruit juices)
- fatty foods
- mints (especially peppermint)
- packaged/processed foods
- spicy foods
- tomatoes and related products
Reducing trigger foods can benefit GERD in two ways: it can help alleviate symptoms in the short-term, and even help you lose weight in the long-term.
Weight loss is one of the best ways to beat GERD. The first step is to reduce your daily calorie intake. Reducing foods high in fat can help reduce calories while also decreasing the risk for heartburn. The same is true of packaged foods and other non-nutritive items, such as sugar.
Exercise is another weight loss technique that is especially helpful for people with heartburn. Taking a walk after a meal helps with calorie-burning as well as digestion. This way, you are less likely to lay down after a meal and risk further stomach acid leakage.
For severe obesity that’s not resolved with diet and exercise, some cases might require weight loss surgery. Due to the nature of the procedure, heartburn is a common side effect. You can manage this in much the same way as other lifestyle remedies for heartburn:
- eat smaller meals
- don’t eat less than 2 hours before lying down
- elevate the head of your bed 6-10 inches with a foam wedge
- eat slowly
- avoid trigger foods (such as spicy, high-fat foods)
There’s a strong link between excess weight and acid reflux. Losing weight is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce heartburn, as well as your risk for other health complications. If you have GERD, make sure you stick with your treatment plan to avoid esophageal damage. Talk to your gastroenterologist if your condition fails to improve despite your best weight loss efforts.