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Dr. Maratchi Suggested Article

Heartburn? A low-carb, higher-fat diet may be the answer

Pills to stop heartburn and reflux always top the list of commonly used medications. Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) accounts for about 9 million outpatient doctor visits and a medication cost of about $12.5 billion annually.

Simply put, reflux is the return of stomach contents back into the esophagus. There are serious physical consequences of chronic GERD. There are also problems associated with long-term use of the medications used to control it.

I believe in food and am always on the lookout for a food approach that can alleviate common problems. And that is what I found in a recent research article in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. This study looked at the impact of a lower carbohydrate/higher-fat diet on symptoms of GERD. Subjects for this study were 144 obese European-American and African-American women aged 21-50. Of the 144 subjects 50 had GERD.

Subjects were provided with dietary instructions, menu plans and the mix of fat they were to use in their foods. The diet was composed of 35 percent carbohydrate, 48 percent fat and about 17 percent protein. The study lasted 16 weeks.

By week 10 of the study, symptoms of GERD were gone and medication had been discontinued. Another important finding was that the likelihood of having GERD increased with each additional teaspoon of simple carbohydrate such as sugar. People with GERD are often told to decrease their fat intake and when they do this they often increase their intake of simple carbohydrates. A limitation of this study is that it was only women and the study size was small. But this is a dietary question that needs an answer.

The takeaway message: If you are experiencing heartburn, try decreasing your sugar intake. If you have chronic GERD, ask your physician for a referral to a registered dietitian/nutritionist. This diet plan is worth trying but I recommend expert assistance so as not to over restrict the carbohydrates.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.

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