A new study found that people with a type of reflux disorder in which stomach acid is thought to rise all the way to the voice box (larynx) and throat may be improved by a low-acid diet.
Unlike its more commonly known cousin gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which stomach acid and partially digested food rise into the lower esophagus causing heartburn and other symptoms, people with laryngopharyngeal reflux instead experience a burning sensation and an acrid taste in the back of their throat. They may also have a chronic sore throat, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and chronic cough, and may develop asthma and bronchitis. Most people with this type of reflux feel better when they take medications to reduce stomach acid production, but some people don’t.
Testing a low-acid diet
The current study, published in the Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology, included 20 people with laryngopharyngeal reflux who did not improve with acid-blocking medications. They were instructed to eat from a prescribed list of low-acid foods for two weeks. The following foods were included on the low-acid diet:
Grains and grain products
Vegetables other than tomatoes, onions, and peppers
Banana and melon, but no other fruits
Beans, lentils, and tofu
Egg whites, fish, and skinless chicken and turkey
Herbs and spices except garlic, mustard, and pepper
Milk, chamomile tea, and 1 cup of coffee (preferably with milk) per day
Olive oil and a maximum of 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette per day
Honey, agave, and a maximum of 2 teaspoons of artificial sweetener per day
Reducing acid relieves symptoms
At the end of two weeks, 19 people had fewer laryngopharyngeal reflux symptoms, and three of them had complete remission of symptoms. Examinations of the throat and larynx showed that tissue damage had improved in many of the people who felt better on the diet. Only one person was worse at the end of the trial.
“A strict low-acid diet appears to be beneficial for patients with pH-documented [laryngopharyngeal reflux],” said Dr. Jamie A. Koufman, the study’s author. “In this study, the diet was shown to improve both the symptoms and the laryngeal findings of patients with [medication-resistant laryngopharyngeal reflux].”
Getting the acid out of your diet
Because this was a preliminary study, the findings suggest, but don’t prove, that a low-acid diet can reduce symptoms and prevent the long-term consequences of laryngopharyngeal reflux. Based on this evidence, people with laryngopharyngeal reflux who are otherwise healthy can experiment safely with a low-acid diet for two to four weeks, though you should consult a professional if you are considering limiting fruits from your diet for a longer period. The most highly acidic foods should be strictly avoided, including:
Fruits (except banana, mangoes, and melon), jams and jellies, and fruit juices
Beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks
Cultured and fermented foods like sauerkraut and pickles
Additives like acetic, ascorbic, and citric acids, which are commonly found in processed foods
(Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 2011;120:281–7)
Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.