A new study found that following a plant-based Mediterranean diet could provide relief similar to widely used medications for people with acid reflux. The findings appear to add to the wide range of benefits associated with vegetarian diets, such as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia.

The study was conducted by researchers from Northwell Health’s The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and New York Medical College.

Image credit: The State Times
Image credit: The State Times

The experiment was carried out to assess how eating habits can affect laryngopharyngeal reflux symptoms like heartburn, a bitter taste after eating or the feeling of something stuck in the back of the throat. The results were published in a paper online Thursday (Sept 7) in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

Vegetarian diet was slightly more efficient in treating reflux than PPIs

The researchers analyzed 184 people for the study, whom they split into two control groups. One group was told to use proton-pump inhibitors, a traditional medicine to treat reflux, and the other group was ordered to follow a Mediterranean diet that included alkaline water.

The study found that compared to patients who took the traditional proton-pump inhibitors (PPI) medicine, those who consumed a 90-95 percent whole food, plant-based, Mediterranean diet along with alkaline water had the same if not better reduction in acid reflux symptoms.

The authors of the new study report that 62.6 percent of patients treated with the vegetarian Mediterranean diet and alkaline water saw a six point reduction in their Reflux Symptom Index –a measurement of the severity of the symptoms—while only 54.1 percent of patients who took their regular reflux medicine saw the same reduction.

Image credit: Movenourishbelieve.com
Image credit: Movenourishbelieve.com

Even though the research focused on patients with laryngopharyngeal reflux, the authors said the same plant-based diet regimen could similarly help those with gastroesophageal acid reflux, or GERD.

“I did research and saw a lot of studies using plant-based diets to treat patients for many other chronic diseases, so I decided to develop a diet regimen to treat my laryngopharyngeal reflux patients,” lead author Dr. Craig H. Zalvan, said in a statement. “The results we found show we are heading in the right direction to treating reflux without medication.”

Mediterranean diet also lowers risks of dementia

Dr. Zalvan, chief of Otolaryngology and medical director of The Institute for Voice and Swallowing Disorders at Northwell Health’s Phelps Hospital and researcher at the Feinstein Institute, noted he was once one of the largest prescribers of PPIs in the region.

He decided to study how to treat laryngopharyngeal reflux without using traditional medication, as he wanted to find other alternatives.

“Although effective in some patients, I felt medication couldn’t be the only method to treat reflux and recent studies reporting increased rates of stroke and heart attack, dementia and kidney damage from prolonged PPI use made me more certain,” said Dr. Zalvan in a statement from Northwell Health.

Meanwhile, as studies continue reporting increased rates of health problems associated with prolonged PPI use, other studies are shedding light on the benefits of switching to plant-based diets.

In July, a study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International conference showed how a Mediterranean-style diet could lower risk of dementia. For that study, researchers analyzed the eating habits of about 6,000 Americans with an average age of 68 years, factoring in gender, race, and health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, and depression.

Image credit: Neil Moralee / Science Line
Image credit: Neil Moralee / Science Line

They determined that patients who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 30 to 35 lower risk of cognitive impairment, such as dementia, compared to participants who did not follow a plant-based diet. Moreover, those who followed the Mediterranean diet were 18 percent less likely to show signs of cognitive impairment.

Plant-based diet also helped participants with hypertension and high cholesterol

The Mediterranean diet, recommended by Dr. Zalvan and numerous physicians, consists of mostly vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts with near complete cessation of animal-based products like dairy and meats, including chicken, fish, beef, pork, and eggs.

The diet is also complemented with standard reflux precautions like avoiding tea, coffee, soda, chocolate, fried or greasy food, spicy food, fatty foods, and alcohol.

The researchers said that, along with seeing their reflux decrease, some of the patients who followed the Mediterranean diet also experienced some weight loss and a reduction of symptoms and medications from other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and high cholesterol.

“Dr. Zalvan’s approach of challenging assumptions in treatment norms epitomizes our view of medical research at the Feinstein Institute and Northwell Health,” said Kevin J. Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute. “We are committed to developing novel strategies to benefit our patients in a way that positively impacts medical practice globally.”

Dr. Zalvan noted that a plant-based diet paired with alkaline water and standard reflux precautions should be attempted before using other medication or with short-term use of medicines for more severe needs.

Source: Northwell Health