Obese people, particularly women, have a substantially greater risk of developing chronic acid reflux than their trim counterparts, a Norwegian study shows. The findings also suggest that the hormone estrogen may promote the condition.
While many people experience acid reflux occasionally, such as after a spicy meal, those with persistent heartburn and acid regurgitation have a more serious condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
In patients with GERD, a muscular valve between the esophagus and stomach weakens or relaxes inappropriately, allowing acidic digestive juices in the stomach to flow back up, or "reflux," into the esophagus. The acid can irritate and burn the esophagus, and in rare cases cause cancer.
The new study, based on a survey conducted in Norway, compared 3,113 people who said they had recurrent, severe heartburn or acid regurgitation during the prior 12 months with another 39,872 people who reported no such symptoms.
Results showed that the link between obesity and GERD was greatest in women. Those with a body mass index (BMI) over 35, which is considered severely obese, were more than six times as likely to have GERD as women with a BMI below 25, which is deemed normal. BMI is a standardized measure that takes into account weight and height.
Among men, those with a BMI over 35 were more than three times as likely to have GERD as those with a BMI below 25. And, suggesting that estrogen may play a role in GERD, the association between obesity and reflux was stronger among premenopausal than postmenopausal women. However, use of estrogen replacement therapy among postmenopausal women strengthened the link.
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