When it’s more than just heartburn, medications may seem like your only hope. But with a few healthy lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, you can tame gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms substantially, suggests a large-scale, long-running study on women’s health.
As you probably know, GERD is more than just heartburn; it’s a chronic condition that causes repeated symptoms that may include heartburn, as well as chest pain and nausea, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). GERD is also common, affecting roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population.
Many people turn to medications like antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to manage GERD symptoms, but this new study suggests that five diet and lifestyle factors, including regular exercise, may do the trick.
The five factors include:
- Maintaining a normal weight
- Steering clear of cigarettes
- Doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise daily
- Limiting coffee, tea and sodas to two cups a day
- Following a “prudent” diet
The more of these five factors women followed, the more their risk of symptoms dropped. Ultimately, these diet and lifestyle factors slashed the incidence of GERD symptoms by more than one-third. This may be enough for you to nix your GERD medications altogether.
“This study provides evidence that common and debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms could be well controlled in many cases with diet and lifestyle modifications alone,” says the study’s senior author, Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH, a gastroenterologist, chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at MGH, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Given that there are long-term health effects of GERD and lingering concerns about the side effects of medications used to treat it, lifestyle should be considered the best option for controlling symptoms.”
Harvard Health offers these additional tips for treating GERD without medication:
- Eat slowly and keep your meals small
- Avoid vigorous exercise for a couple of hours post-meal
- Check your medications for side effects that cause GERD symptoms