Acid Reflux

Obesity and the Risks of Acid Reflux

According to recent science, obesity is linked very clearly to acid reflux disease. (1) The review of 20 recent studies on the condition of gastroesophageal reflux disease (2) found that since this disease is strongly linked to esophageal ulcers and cancer, obesity can complicate the situation. Thus it can be said that both acid reflux and obesity are another part of the metabolic syndrome and metabolic disorders. (3) The study also went on further to say that “weight reduction therapy may be useful in treatment and prevention of these conditions.” (4)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is an extreme and developed form of what is commonly known as “heartburn,” (5) (6) which is characterized by a burning pain in the food pipe or esophagus. This is caused by mucosal damage to the esophagus which is a result of stomach acid coming up or splashing up from the stomach to the esophagus. (7) The burning pain is usually registered just behind the breastbone and can radiate to the chest, neck, throat or even the angle of the jaw. While one the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease is heartburn, it has also been known to be a symptom of ischemic heart disease, so a premature diagnosis of acid reflux disease is also possible. (8) One of the reasons why the causes of heartburn are often misdiagnosed is because both the heart and the esophagus share the same nerve supply. (9)

Quick-fixes and treatment of acid reflux

While it is certainly possible to ingest some liquid lidocaine or antacid (commonly, sodium bicarbonate powder mixed with water) to relieve the symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux, this is in no way a permanent solution and should only be used to alleviate pain symptoms that prevent comfort or normal daily functioning. As with all conditions in the gastrointestinal tract, there is always an underlying cause related to the metabolism, and it is also very likely that heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux is intricately related to the general condition now known as metabolic disorder or metabolic syndrome. What is also known is that obesity is intimately related to this condition as well, which is why the scientific studies reviewed by the article in ScienceDaily were able to hypothesize that obesity has something to do with acid reflux in the first place.

Because the results of the 20 studies reviewed all showed a link between obesity and acid reflux, the advice was clear and simple, “weight reduction therapy may be useful in treatment and prevention of these conditions.” (10)

Treating obesity to treat acid reflux

While it is certainly true that “the relationship between obesity and GERD was still uncertain in the early 2000s because of too sparse data,” (11) this has been studied since quite extensively.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30.0 kg/m2. Being overweight is anywhere between 25.0 > 29.9 BMI. A healthy person who wants to alleviate a lot of the problems associated with metabolic disorder, including obesity, acid reflux, lower back- and spinal pain, as well as reduce significantly their chances of developing life-threatening conditions such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, stomach- and bowel cancer and even cardiovascular disease.

One of the first studies, quoted in the Medscape article, is one from 2003 in which 40,000 odd Norwegian individuals were studied for GERD clearly found a positive correlation between increasing BMI and acid reflux in both genders, although the association was much clearer in women. (12) Similar studies performed on populations in the United States, on 10,545 women achieved very similar results. Almost all of the cohort studies in the following years showed the same data, so the link between obesity and acid reflux was well and truly established.

Body-fat and acid reflux

It is now known that adipose tissue, (13) or body-fat, is actually a complex organ that is responsible for releasing several hormones into the body (chiefly adipokines and leptin), which are responsible for regulating appetite and a variety of other functions. (14) Normal body-fat percentages (3-5% for men; 8-12% for women) (15) are needed by the human anatomy to regulate parts of the metabolism and have also been shown to be largely coded genetically to keep our body at the weight we were genetically inclined to be at. (16) This number is very different for every person and explains why some people find it easier to keep weight off and others, even though they share the same lifestyles. But if a person becomes overweight or obese at an early time in their life, there is a high chance that there will be an overabundance of leptin in their bloodstream, which ends up desensitizing the metabolism to the appetite-suppressant effects of the chemical. (17) If a person ends up with too much leptin in their system, they are thrown into a cycle of feeling hungry even though they are not, which will lead to overeating and weight gain.

Bad diet and acid reflux

It is also known that if you eat the wrong things, you have a higher chance of getting acid reflux (citrus fruits, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, fatty and fried foods, garlic, onions, mint flavorings, spicy foods, tomato-based foods). (18) While the body does need certain amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals, vitamins and nutrients, the only way to effectively manage this is to let the body do it, by eating a healthy balance of all different types of foods. (19) Numbers are only starting to come out recently, but it is important to pay attention to updated medical, scientific and nutritional information about the right quantities of each of these that we need to consume to function healthily. What is true is that any imbalance in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to imbalances in the stomach which can cause acid reflux. (20) Most people who eat a lot of the wrong thing (particularly high carbohydrate and high sugar processed foods) are also obese, (21) so the link is quite clear. The more you strive to clean up your diet and consume organic, natural foods with a good balance of all the different types of nutrition, the more weight you will lose that will allow your body to return to its genetically coded norm; thus  you can not only fight obesity and acid reflux in this way, but the entire metabolic disorder as well.