Mediterranean Diet Provides Similar Benefits as Reflux Drugs

A plant-based Mediterranean diet reduced reflux symptoms similarly to proton pump inhibitor use.

Consuming a Mediterranean diet that is enriched with fruits, vegetables, and olive oil is thought to provide numerous health benefits, including disease prevention.

Findings from a study published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head Neck Surgery indicate that a plant-based Mediterranean diet may be equally as beneficial for patients with laryngopharyngeal reflux as standard medications.

Patients who adhered to a whole food, plant-based Mediterranean diet 90% to 95% of the time plus alkaline water had a similar—if not better—reduction in reflux symptoms compared with treatment with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

The authors found that 62.6% of patients eating the Mediterranean diet had a 6-point reduction in their Reflux Symptom Index (RSI) compared with a 54.1% reduction for patients taking PPIs.

While this study only focused on patients with laryngopharyngeal reflux, the diet has also been found to improve symptoms among patients with gastro-esophageal acid reflux disease, according to the study.

Previously, the lead author, Craig H. Zalvan, MD, FACS, chief of Otolaryngology and medical director of The Institute for Voice and Swallowing Disorders at Northwell Health's Phelps Hospital and researcher at the Feinstein Institute, frequently prescribed PPIs, but started searching for an alternative treatment method due to potential adverse events.

"Although effective in some patients, I felt medication couldn't be the only method to treat reflux and recent studies reporting increased rates of stroke and heart attack, dementia and kidney damage from prolonged PPI use made me more certain," Dr Zalvan said. "I did research and saw a lot of studies using plant-based diets to treat patients for many other chronic diseases, so I decided to develop a diet regimen to treat my laryngopharyngeal reflux patients. The results we found show we are heading in the right direction to treating reflux without medication."

Patients consumed a diet that mostly consisted of fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts, while cutting out beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and pork. The participants were also advised to adhere to standard reflux diet precautions, including avoiding tea, coffee, alcohol, soda, and food that is fried, spicy, and fatty, according to the study.

In addition to improved reflux symptoms, the authors found that patients consuming the diet benefited from weight loss and symptom reduction for other conditions, such as high cholesterol and hypertension.

This plant-based diet, in addition to alkaline water and standard prevention approaches, may be used prior to medication therapy or with short-term PPI use in severe cases, according to the study.

"Dr Zalvan's approach of challenging assumptions in treatment norms epitomizes our view of medical research at the Feinstein Institute and Northwell Health," said Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute. "We are committed to developing novel strategies to benefit our patients in a way that positively impacts medical practice globally."