Researchers say chewing on a piece of gum for about a half-hour after each meal can give some relief from acid reflux.
Their small study found that post-meal gum chewing appeared to reduce acid in the esophagus and quell heartburn symptoms among people with chronic reflux problems. Chewing gum stimulates saliva, which is more alkaline. And this can neutralize the remaining acid in the esophagus.
Dental experts have long known that chewing sugarless gum can slow the growth of cavities, mainly by lowering acid levels around teeth. The research team wondered if the same mechanism might work to fight gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a common but distressing condition where acid in the stomach washes up into the esophagus. For many patients, GERD is at its worst soon after a meal.
In their two-day study, the London researchers had 21 people with GERD eat a high-fat meal specifically designed to churn up reflux symptoms. On one day, participants were also asked to chew a stick of gum for 30 minutes following the meal, while on the other day they went without. The researchers then used a special probe to measure levels of acid within each patient's esophagus for about two hours after each meal. Patients were also asked to record any incidence of heartburn, using an electronic "event button."
For the patient without chewing gum, (post-meal) reflux is much higher compared with the patient with chewing gum.
Specifically, pH levels in the esophagus were below an acidic four for an average of nine minutes when patients didn't chew gum, compared to just 4.7 minutes when they did. Also, patients recorded fewer episodes of heartburn and discomfort during the gum session.
None of this means that GERD patients should toss out their medicines in favor of chewing gum, however. This study was small and it's far too early to draw firm conclusions. However, the research team is planning a larger study.
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