When they become chronic, excessive gas and heartburn are serious quality-of-life issues that may inspire you to re-evaluate your diet and your overall lifestyle. It's possible that losing weight will reduce or eliminate unpleasant symptoms of gas and heartburn -- it's even likely in some cases. But individual factors also help determine how you experience heartburn and gas. Understanding these factors, in addition to gaining the overall benefits of weight loss, could make a big difference in both areas.
Losing Weight, Losing Heartburn
Losing excess weight is recommended for many reasons, and it can have a positive impact on the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Excess weight can put pressure on the valve that normally keeps stomach acid from refluxing up into the esophagus to cause heartburn and other symptoms. Thirty-seven percent of those who are overweight or obese have GERD symptoms, and according to the American College of Gastroenterology, weight gain may be linked to GERD symptoms even when body mass index -- the measure of body fat in proportion to height and weight -- is still in the normal range. A large study of nurses showed that women who reduced their BMI by 3.5 or more experienced a 40 percent reduction in frequent GERD symptoms, as reported in the June 2006 "New England Journal of Medicine."
Gas and Weight Loss
While losing weight may help you reduce acid reflux symptoms, you won't necessarily have less gas. One cause of intestinal gas is incomplete digestion of foods within the small intestine, which leaves these nutrients available for gut bacteria to metabolize. Gas is the byproduct. Different food items may increase gas production for different people. Certain healthy foods commonly recommended for weight loss, such as lentils, beans and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, tend to be gas-producing. On the other hand, avoiding whole milk and ice cream in an effort to slim down might help to improve your gas situation -- if, like many adults, you have some degree of lactose intolerance. Finally, if the bothersome gas is the burping variety, it may not relate to diet at all, since a common cause is swallowed air.
Diet and Heartburn
Foods that might be good for weight loss may nevertheless trigger or worsen symptoms of acid reflux. For instance, when opting for salads, raw onions, garlic and black pepper can be problematic for some people with acid reflux. Some dieters who suffer from heartburn opt for a yogurt-based salad dressing instead of one with vinegar. Citrus fruits and acidic fruit juices can aggravate reflux too. Avoiding chocolate may be advisable both from the prospective of cutting calories and staving off heartburn symptoms. Other foods that can aggravate heartburn include:
-- Alcohol, especially red wine. -- Dairy products. -- Peppermint. -- Tomatoes.
Bloating, Cramps and Constipation
Whether you are at the beginning of your weight-loss journey or well on your way, painful gas and constipation are common complaints, and being sedentary doesn't help. Bloating is usually experienced as a sense of gas pressure in the abdominal region, or the sensation of the abdomen being distended, which may be actual distention or a heightened perception. Eliminating dairy, fructose, fructans, fiber and sorbitol, which tend to ferment in the colon, has been shown to help symptoms in certain people with similar symptoms from what is known as irritable bowel syndrome. Exercise, always good when you're trying to lose weight, helps to reduce gas, bloating and constipation, too.
Conclusions and Recommendations
For most people, acid reflux is just a nuisance that may flare up periodically. People with chronic GERD, however, can have serious complications, including esophageal ulcers and cancer of the esophagus. GERD can also cause or aggravate certain respiratory conditions such as asthma. Unintentional weight loss, chest pain, hoarseness and difficulty swallowing are causes for concern and should be discussed with your doctor.
Is This an Emergency?
- Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motillity: The Overlap Between GERD and Functional Bowel Disorders - When East Meets Rome
- Nutrition in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease; Dr. Jorge E. Rodriguez and Susan Wyler
- Gastroenterology & Hepatology: Pathophysiology, Evaluation, and Treatment of Bloating -- Hope, Hype, or Hot Air?
- American College of Gastroenterology: Diagnosis and Management of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- American Gastroenterological Association: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- Obesity: Weight Loss Can Lead to Resolution of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms: A Prospective Intervention Trial
- 100 Questions and Answers About Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): A Lahey Clinic Guide; David L. Burns
- New England Journal of Medicine: Association Between Body Mass Index and Gastroesophageal Reflux Symptoms in Both Normal Weight and Overweight Women