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Low-Carb Diet Eases Heartburn

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Q. Heartburn has been my constant companion for years. I was always taking antacids or acid suppressing drugs.

My acid reflux disappeared last year when I stopped eating bread. I also cut back on starch, sugar and other carbs. I learned that foods like bagels, crackers or pretzels made me feel tired. When I quit, I discovered to my delight I had no more symptoms.

A. People with heartburn are usually told to avoid fatty or spicy foods. Although there are few studies to support such restrictions, research backs up your experience that cutting back on carbs can relieve reflux (Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Aug., 2006).

Stopping acid-suppressing drugs can be tricky because of acid rebound. We offer recommendations for phasing off drugs like Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium along with lots of non-drug approaches to heartburn in our Guide to Digestive Disorders.

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Actually, heartburn and fatigue can be signs of gluten/gliaden/grain intolerance, especially wheat intolerance. Gluten is a protein in wheat and some other grains, and gliaden is an especially problematic fraction of gluten. For overall health, reducing sugars and other simple carbohydrates is a good idea too.

I was diagnosed with GERD several years ago by a gastroenterologist. However, I really couldn't tolerate the powerful medicines that are supposed to help the gassy feeling associated with heartburn, so I was greatly relieved when a nutritionist recommended that I chew inexpensive DGL tablets (I use the NOW brand) when I had heartburn. They worked like a charm. I have encouraged others - some with longstanding problems - to try DGL, and their experience has been as successful as mine.

The whole carb controversy frustrates me, because rarely do you hear anyone making the distinction between COMPLEX carbohydrates and SIMPLE carbs which Americans almost live on.

White rice, white flour products including pasta, pastry and pizza are denatured simple carbohydrates which are simple sugars and are stored as fat when consumed. Even if someone doesn't appear to be fat, if they are a heavy consumer of simple carbs, their muscles are undoubtedly "well marbled".

Unrefined complex carbs such as whole grain breads and brown rice metabolize slowly and their sugars and nutrients enter the bloodstream at a more even rate - not the sudden spike and crash characteristic after simple sugar consumption. Complex carbs remain in the bloodstream to be called upon and utilized by the body's many processes.

Heartburn can also be avoided by NOT drinking iced drinks with a meal. Try not drinking anything but a small amount of warm liquid with your meal. Make sure that you are fully hydrated and if you are thirsty to drink several hours BEFORE a meal or wait until several hours after the meal.

I have also experienced GERD for most of my life. My gastroenterologist wanted to put me on strong anti-acid medicines but I didn't want to keep covering up the problem since it also involved involuntary diarrhea. He suggested that I eliminate gluten and now my gastric problems only return when I inadvertently eat something with gluten in it. It is hard to live gluten-free but worth it since I don't have to take anti-acids any more.

We so enjoy your column. Would you please list other foods/drinks that may relax the lower esophageal sphincter ring of muscle that separates the stomach from the esophagus beside chocolate? (re. acid reflux)

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