WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Adults who follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to be affected by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) than those who follow a more Western type diet.1
WHAT THIS MEANS
Mediterranean-style eating patterns originate in the Mediterranean region, based mostly upon typical eating patterns found in Greece, Spain, and Italy. The diet characteristically consists of a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, fish, olive oil, moderate amounts of alcohol and dairy, and low amounts of red or processed meat. Due to the limited intake of processed foods, added sugars and other high calorie, less nutritionally dense food items, the diet has gained popularity as a template for those seeking healthier eating patterns throughout other Western countries. The Mediterranean diet has been recognized for its association with a reduced incidence of cardiovascular mortality, high blood pressure and cholesterol, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.2 The Mediterranean diet also appeals to many individuals aiming to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, as the diet is not very restrictive, easy to follow, and includes a wide variety of whole foods.
Given the many potential health benefits the Mediterranean diet offers, it’s not surprising that individuals with GERD will likely reap health benefits too. Before going any further, let’s define GERD: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease that occurs when the contents of the stomach flow back into the esophagus.3 Due to the acidic properties of the stomach (acidic digestive enzymes breakdown food during the digestion process), this backflow irritates the lining of the esophagus, causing GERD.3 Symptoms of GERD are uncomfortable and potentially painful, and may manifest as a burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), chest pain, difficulty swallowing, sore throat, regurgitation of food (acid reflux) and a feeling of having a lump in the throat.
The condition can be treated by over-the-counter medications such as antacid tablets (like Tums) or prescription drugs. If neither of these options is successful, surgery may be required, as chronic uncontrolled GERD raises an individual’s chances of developing esophageal cancer or other more serious complications. However, many individuals with GERD also find that certain foods and dietary habits will trigger the heartburn and acid reflux. Individuals with GERD can often lessen their symptoms and enjoy greater quality by adhering to a balanced, nutritious Mediterranean diet.
GERD affects approximately 28% of adult populations in Western countries.1 A major risk factor for GERD is obesity, and due to the increasing rates of obesity in Western countries, GERD more heavily impacts these adult populations. In Albania, however, where the majority of adults adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet, GERD only affects 12% of the adult population.
Researchers conducted a study of 817 men and women in Tirana, the Albanian capital, in 2012. The average age of the participants was 51 years of age and included roughly 40% men and 60% women. Information was collected on smoking habits, alcohol consumption, physical activity, socioeconomic information (income and education), dietary habits and whether or not the individuals experienced symptoms of GERD in the past year. To assess dietary habits, participants were asked about the frequency at which they consumed the four main Albanian Mediterranean diet items, which include traditional dishes rich in spices, garlic and herbs; fruits and vegetables, olive oil and fish. They were also asked to rate frequency of consumption of non-Mediterranean food items, such as red meat, fried foods, sweets and junk or fast foods.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
Overall, 54.5% of participants ate a predominantly Mediterranean diet while the remaining 45.5% did not. Of all participants, 9% experienced GERD symptoms and participants who did not follow the Mediterranean diet had a 3.1 higher odds of experiencing GERD, meaning that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of GERD in participants who consumed this type of diet. This study adds further evidence to support the Mediterranean diet as a dietary template to lower the chances of GERD symptoms, lower obesity, and be part of a healthy lifestyle. For those concerned with or experiencing GERD symptoms or are overweight/obese, the Mediterranean diet may be a superior dietary template to follow.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In addition to a decreased risk of GERD, individuals who followed the diet were thinner overall. This finding suggests a symbiotic relationship between the Mediterranean diet and GERD– individuals who follow this template are less likely to be overweight, eliminating an important GERD risk factor (obesity). It’s important to note that no single component of the Mediterranean diet had a significant influence on GERD risk, suggesting that the composition of all food groups included in the diet were beneficial, rather than one specific food group or food item.
This study provides us with an important reminder: rather than focusing on a specific diet fad (Paleo, Whole30, gluten-free, etc.) or eliminating a “bad” food or food group, place your focus on eating mostly whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables. it’s tempting to jump headfirst into a new, strict diet or eating plan that will ultimately lead to frustration, disappointment and most importantly, will most likely not help you to meet your long-term health goals. We recommend consuming a balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, that provides your body with adequate vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to achieve your optimal health!
Be sure to explore our other About The Buzz articles on the Mediterranean diet!
Mediterranean Diet and Weight Loss
Mediterranean Diet and Menopause Symptoms
Mediterranean Diet May Ward Off Dementia
Mediterranean Diet Promotes Brain Health
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