How Does Losing Weight Improve GERD?

GERD is a chronic condition in which the valve at the entrance to the stomach doesn’t close properly and allows stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus, causing heartburn and indigestion.

According to some estimates, 44% of people in the United States report symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD every month. According to a new study, losing weight may help reduce the symptoms of GERD. Researchers had a group of overweight people, one-third of whom had GERD, reduce their calorie intake and exercise to lose weight. After 6 months, people lost on average 29 lbs. and 4 inches from their waist. In 65% of those with GERD, symptoms disappeared completely, and another 15% had partial relief from symptoms.

With both obesity and GERD on the rise in the United States, a link between the two conditions appears strong. Recently, two large studies found that people who were overweight were around 50% more likely to have GERD than normal-weight people; obese individuals were twice as likely to have GERD.

Extra fat in the abdomen may increase pressure on the stomach and cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, allowing stomach contents to flow back up into the esophagus. In addition, body fat may release chemicals that decrease pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter or slow the clearance of acid from the esophagus.

Another possibility is that estrogen levels may play a role: One study found that obese women were more likely than obese men to have GERD; the risk of GERD was highest in premenopausal women and in postmenopausal women taking estrogen.

Whatever the cause, losing weight seems to help reduce symptoms of GERD. One review article found that losing weight and elevating the head of the bed were the only practical lifestyle measures that helped relieve GERD symptoms. According to another study of women in The New England Journal of Medicine, decreasing body mass index by more than 3.5 points (the equivalent of losing about 20 lbs or more) may reduce the risk of experiencing frequent GERD symptoms.

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