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Can dietary therapies treat GERD effectively?



Lifestyle changes may benefit patients

Several common lifestyle recommendations for patients with GERD relate to diet. Such recommendations include avoiding alcohol; eating smaller, more frequent meals; and avoiding food within 3 hours of bedtime. But data suggest that it is not effective to recommend the avoidance of acidic or irritative foods (e.g., citrus fruits, tomatoes, and carbonated beverages) or refluxogenic foods (e.g., fatty or fried foods, coffee, and chocolate) to all patients. Genetic predispositions may cause these foods to be irritants to certain patients, but “I don’t globally tell people to avoid things unless they irritate them,” said Dr. Pandolfino.

Understanding the mechanism by which certain foods trigger GERD can aid in appropriate therapy. For example, coffee can reduce LES pressure and increase gastric acid production. “If you have someone who already has low LES pressure, reducing coffee consumption might help that patient,” said Dr. Pandolfino. Data suggest that certain elimination diets are ineffective, however. Clinical trials do not suggest that eliminating carbonated beverages affects symptoms, and the data about eliminating alcohol, citrus, spicy foods, and chocolate are conflicting (Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2017;19[8]:38.).

In a 2018 study, investigators gave patients with GERD 5 g of psyllium t.i.d. They performed physiologic testing on the patients at baseline and after 10 days of the diet. The intervention was associated with a significant increase in LES pressure and a reduction in overall reflux (World J Gastroenterol. 2018;24[21]:2291-9.). “This was one of the first studies that showed a dramatic improvement in physiology,” said Dr. Pandolfino. “Certainly, this is provocative, and I think that this is not an unreasonable thing to do in someone who’s not getting enough fiber.”

In addition to improving cardiovascular disease and diabetes, the Mediterranean diet reduces reflux symptoms and complications. When the researchers controlled for eating habits, the association persisted (Dis Esophagus. 2016;29[7]:794-800.).

Optimal GERD therapy follows from an analysis of patient-centered foci, such as obesity and triggers, and specific functional defects. In the quest for personalized therapy, a clinician should not discount the underlying pathogenesis, because some patients may require medications or surgery, said Dr. Pandolfino.


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