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The Link Between Excess Belly Fat and Heartburn

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Every year, about 60 percent of people feel heartburn’s burning sensation, pressure or pain in the middle of their chest. While even enviously thin people can get heartburn, studies confirm extra weight, especially surplus belly fat, can significantly increase your risk. That means overweight and obese people as well as pregnant women are likely candidates. Research shows that up to 35 percent of overweight people suffer from heartburn when stomach acid rises up into the esophagus. However, physical discomfort is just one concern. Severe, persistent or untreated heartburn can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a more serious condition that can cause a host of problems. They range from difficulty swallowing, chest pain and acid reflux to increasing your risk for esophageal ulcers or cancer. Studies confirm that you can prevent this cycle by losing weight.

Belly Fat Reports

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, because obesity and GERD diagnoses are more frequent in the United States, a link between the two appears likely. Studies indicate that too much belly fat may put extra pressure on your abdomen, making your lower esophageal sphincter relax too much. When this muscular ring isn’t correctly working, your stomach contents flow back up into your esophagus. Your stomach juices, full of acid, cause heartburn. Even with a body mass index (BMI) in the healthy range, gaining a few pounds makes you more likely to experience heartburn. The Texas GERD Institute also reports that abdominal obesity may at least be partially to blame. Excess abdominal weight compresses the stomach and causes the pressure inside to rise. Abdominal obesity also can contribute to the release of inflammatory substances that can increase your GERD risk.

Weight Research

Boston University Medical Center gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine Brian C. Jacobson, M.D., MPH, studied 10,545 women, 22 percent of whom reported having heartburn at least once a week. He compared weights of 52- to 77-year-old women against their self-reported weights at age 18. Women with normal BMIs under 25 at age 18 that increased by over 3.5 points were not overweight officially; yet, they had nearly three times the acid reflux symptom risk of those who maintained their weight. Jacobson suspects his findings are true for men, too. The New England Journal of Medicine published research on normal-weight women who decreased their BMI by over 3.5 points. Equivalent to losing around 10 to 15 pounds, this reduced their occurrence of GERD symptoms by about 40 percent. Similarly, a 10- to 15-pound weight gain increased the risks of frequent heartburn, acid reflux and other GERD-related problems. After reviewing several studies, the Center for GERD Care at the Texas GERD Institute confirmed that excess weight almost doubles the risk of GERD symptoms including acid reflux, heartburn, chest pain and difficulty swallowing.

Obesity Study

Mayo Clinic researchers found that even moderate weight gain can exacerbate GERD. They evaluated nearly 200 patients who were at least 18 years old and clinically obese but healthy otherwise. After restricting participants’ calories, researchers measured their BMI at six, 12 and 18 months. They discovered that acid reflux and heartburn decreased significantly at each interval. This study suggests strongly that losing weight may be an effective treatment method, especially for obese and overweight patients.

bellyfat2Lifestyle Review

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine focused on lifestyle changes that reduce heartburn when patients’ bland, limited diets didn’t help. Lauren Gerson, M.D., MSc, director of the Esophageal and Small Bowel Disorders Center at Stanford University School of Medicine, evaluated 16 clinical trials. While avoiding heartburn-triggering foods and drinks, changing your sleeping position, shunning late-night eating and passing up cigarettes may lower acid levels in your esophagus, evidence didn’t show they improved heartburn. The only changes that brought relief were:
  • Losing weight
  • Elevating the head of your bed


Depending on the severity of your heartburn, you may need to combine dietary and lifestyle modifications with drug therapy. Try over-the-counter options first. If they don’t provide enough relief, your doctor can recommend a prescription.
  • For chronic or severe heartburn, you may need a prescription drug like esomeprazole to control symptoms and prevent further damage.
  • Antacids relieve mild and infrequent heartburn quickly. However, they don’t prevent further acid buildup.
  • Acid blockers suppress acid production in your stomach without inhibiting the digestive process.

Diet Tips

The McKinley Health Center (MHC) at the University of Illinois and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology recommend a GERD-friendly diet that may include modifying your eating habits. While promoting weight loss, these recommendations also may help lessen your likelihood of experiencing reflux symptoms and irritating sensitive or inflamed esophageal tissue.
  • Decrease your total caloric intake.
  • Consume less fat. High-fat meals including fried foods can decrease pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter and delay your stomach from emptying, which increases your reflux risk.bellyfat
  • Eat smaller meals. Overeating can boost your stomach pressure and reflux chances.
  • Avoid heavy evening meals. Eating heavy dinners too late increases your weight gain chance. This is partly because you’re less likely to burn off those excess calories in the few hours before bedtime.


So much research should motivate you to overpower heartburn discomfort and avoid serious complications. Follow these diet tips to trim your midsection, lose weight and lower your BMI. Take over-the-counter and prescription medications as directed. Visualize yourself as a healthy statistic — and you’re well on your way to a slimmer, trimmer body and less heartburn.

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