Conference Coverage

Can dietary therapies treat GERD effectively?



Dietary therapies can form a beneficial part of personalized treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to an overview presented at the meeting, sponsored by the American Gastroenterological Association. Modifying diet may reduce lower esophageal sphincter (LES) pressure and decrease the number of reflux events. Prescribing an overly restrictive diet, however, can promote hypervigilance and overwhelm patients. Successful dietary therapy requires balancing expectations and maintaining cognitive flexibility, said John E. Pandolfino, MD, Hans Popper Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Dr. John E. Pandolfino, Hans Popper Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago

Dr. John E. Pandolfino

When a patient presents with GERD and does not have warning signs such as dysphagia or odynophagia, the initial treatment typically is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). This therapy effectively reduces the acidity of the gastric juice and improves acid clearance. It does not, however, change the number of reflux events or affect tissue permeability, said Dr. Pandolfino. Dietary therapy has the potential to address these outcomes.

Diets can facilitate weight loss

The first mechanism by which dietary therapies reduce GERD is by facilitating weight loss. “Obesity is associated with reflux. If you reduce that gastroesophageal pressure gradient that is generated by truncal obesity, you will improve reflux,” said Dr. Pandolfino. Second, reducing the intake of alcohol, coffee, or carbohydrates can decrease the acidity of the gastric juice. Certain foods can reduce the number of reflux events, and others can strengthen the LES.

The increasing incidence of obesity is associated with increasing incidence of GERD. Exacerbations of GERD increase the number of transient LES relaxations (TLESRs), increase the amount of liquid refluxate, and promote the formation of a hiatus hernia, said Dr. Pandolfino. One study found that moderate weight gain can cause or worsen reflux symptoms among patients of normal weight (N Engl J Med. 2006;354[22]:2340-8.). Weight loss was associated with a decreased risk of GERD symptoms. Another analysis found that reducing body mass index by 3.5 points is associated with “a dramatic reduction in overall symptoms,” said Dr. Pandolfino (Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108[3]:376-82). Weight loss enhanced the effects of medication and reduced the gastroesophageal pressure gradient.

Dr. Pandolfino and colleagues developed and studied the Reflux Improvement and Monitoring (TRIM) program as a treatment for GERD. In this program, patients with GERD who had a BMI above 30 and were taking a PPI were referred to health coaches for weight loss treatment. Participants’ GERD Q scores decreased from 8.7 at baseline to 7.5 at 3 months and 7.4 at 6 months. Furthermore, percentage of excess body weight continued to decline for 12 months among patients who participated in TRIM, compared with controls (Am J Gastroenterol. 2018;113[1]:23-30.).

“These patients learn healthier habits [such as] walking a little bit more and watching the overall volume of food that they’re taking in,” said Dr. Pandolfino. “This was a simple thing to focus on, diet and exercise, that dramatically reduced overall severity of reflux. The interesting thing here is that we got 30% of people off their PPI therapy.”


Next Article: