Live Right Live Well: Health & Fitness
Lose Weight to Ease Heartburn
By Michael Castleman for Live Right Live Well
Anyone can suffer from heartburn, but many studies show that the heavier you are, the greater your risk. What’s more, by losing weight you can actually ease heartburn symptoms, making them less frequent and severe.
Researchers at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., recently analyzed 20 studies on the effect of weight on heartburn in 18,346 adults. Their findings: As weight increases, so does the frequency and severity of heartburn. Compared with those who maintained recommended weight, participants who were moderately overweight (say, 20 pounds more than advised for their height and build) had 50 percent more heartburn. Those who were obese (carrying more than 20 or so pounds than they should) had more than twice the risk.
And when Boston University researchers surveyed 10,545 women about their weight and heartburn, they came to similar conclusions. As the women’s weight increased, so did their frequency of heartburn. Compared with women who maintained recommended weight, those who were mildly overweight (say, 10 pounds more than advised) had 2.4 times as much heartburn. Women who were heavier had 2.9 times the risk. While this study focused on women, the researchers said there’s no reason to believe the situation would be different in men.
Why Heavy People Have More Heartburn
Extra pounds predispose people to heartburn because extra weight -- particularly excess abdominal fat -- presses against the stomach and pushes stomach acid up into the esophagus, explains Dr. James W. Ostroff, a gastroenterologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
Imagine your stomach is a juice pouch with a straw stuck into the top. The straw is your esophagus. Unlike most straws, though, this one has a valve at its base with a fancy name: the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. When you eat, food travels down the straw, the LES opens to allow food to enter the pouch, then it seals shut to keep food from traveling back up. Now imagine an excess of abdominal fat pressing on the pouch. The more weight you’re carrying, the more pressure there is, and the more likely the LES won’t be able to hold tight and keep all that juice inside the pouch. The result: acid-y stomach juice gets pushed out of the pouch and back into the straw, resulting in the burning pain of heartburn.
Lose Weight to Ease Heartburn
With Americans now weighing more than ever before, it’s no surprise that heartburn is on the rise, notes Ostroff. Fortunately, just as gaining weight can aggravate symptoms, if you lose weight -- even as little as 10 pounds -- it can ease heartburn, making episodes less frequent and severe. So if acid reflux is a problem for you and you’re carrying extra pounds, burning fat may be the best way to stop burning your esophagus.
Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web. Michael is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.
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