If You're Dealing with Acid Reflux, Ditch the Salt Shaker

A Study Sheds Light on a Surprising Cause of GERD

Salt Shaker. Credit: Tom Kelley / Contributor / Getty Images

Salt is a bigger risk factor for heartburn than alcohol or caffeine, according to a 2004 study out of Sweden. This might come as a surprise, since salt is not a frequently mentioned risk factor for Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD--commonly referred to as acid reflux disease).

What They Studied -- and What They Found

The study was a large-scale population one, using survey information from almost 50,000 people.

Participants were questioned about their lifestyle habits and diet, and underwent a brief physical exam. 

According to the study results, smoking strongly increased the risk for developing acid reflux disease (an expected result). But surprisingly, drinking alcohol had little impact. The same was found true with coffee and tea.

The real news here, however, was the fact that regularly salting foods increased a person's risk of developing acid reflux by 70%, compared to people who didn't add salt to foods. Eating salted fish or meat three times a week increased the risk of GERD by 50% compared to people who never ate salty foods.

They also found that regular exercise (even as little as one 30-minute session a week) and eating high-fiber bread were linked to a lower risk of reflux.

Does That Mean Alcohol and Caffeine Aren't a Problem for Reflux?

No. While this study shows alcohol, coffee, and tea don't appear to cause acid reflux disease, they can still worsen reflux symptoms in those diagnosed with the disease.

"We know that drinking alcohol causes symptoms to occur in people who already have acid reflux disease, so we were quite surprised to find that long-term use did not increase the risk of developing it," said Magnus Nilsson, MD, of Stockholm's Karolinska Hospital.

For people without GERD, alcohol consumption doesn't seem to increase your risk of developing it, at least according to this study.

There are other factors, however, that will increase your risk of developing acid reflux disease.

Smoking and GERD

It has been known for quite some time that smoking increases the risk of developing acid reflux disease, and worsens symptoms in those who suffer from it. In this study, people who had smoked every day for more than 20 years were 70 percent more likely to have acid reflux than non-smokers.

Large amounts of salt had a similar increase in risk for developing acid reflux disease as smoking. Whether the link is causal or merely correlational, though, is still up for debate.

Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, a gastroenterologist at New York University Medical Center, offers one possible explanation for how salt may relate to acid reflux. She said it's possible that the people who are adding a lot of salt to their food may also be eating greasier foods, foods which may increase their risk of heartburn.


More Resources:


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