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Will You Experience Acid Reflux While Fasting?

Intermittent fasting can both improve and cause acid reflux. Avoid acid reflux when fasting by making gradual nutrition and lifestyle changes.
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Summary

Most people experience occasional acid reflux after eating. An increase in acid reflux while fasting does occur for some people, but it has improved digestive issues for others. You can avoid acid reflux when fasting by making simple nutrition and lifestyle changes.

Written by
Jill Lebofsky
15+yr Women's Wellness Expert, Holistic Menopause Support, Intermittent Fasting, Midlife, Essential Oil, Author, Speaker

About 10-48% of people in developed countries report weekly reflux symptoms (1).

You may have experienced gastroesophageal reflux (GER) after a large or fatty meal: a burning sensation or pain in the throat and chest, food repeating itself and coming back up, or even vomiting.

Other names for GER include heartburn, reflux, acid reflux, acid indigestion, and acid regurgitation.

While most people have heartburn occasionally, you may have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and require medication or other treatment if it is occurring multiple times a week.

One would think that NOT eating for long periods, as with intermittent fasting, would prevent digestive issues, but that’s not always the case.

 

Intermittent fasting and acid reflux

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No matter what method of intermittent fasting you choose, you will be refraining from eating for hours at some point or for days if you choose to do a longer or prolonged fast.

Your stomach is empty when you are fasting, but it is still producing the digestive acids used to break down food. Stomach acid levels start to rise because there is no food to absorb the acid it usually would in the digestion process. This excess acid starts to spill over and move into the esophagus, causing discomfort and a burning feeling in the chest and throat.

A study showed that just smelling or thinking about food can trigger the stomach to produce more acid (2).

For these reasons, some people will notice increased acid reflux when fasting.

 

Can you reduce acid reflux during fasting?

Although fasting can create or exacerbate digestive issues for some people, others experience a vast improvement in symptoms of acid reflux while fasting.

  • The rate of occurrence and length of time acid reflux lasts increases when the stomach’s emptying is delayed. This happens when blood sugar levels are high, especially in those with diabetes (4). Intermittent fasting lowers blood sugar levels, which is another reason why it may reduce heartburn.

  • When intermittent fasting different hormones are released, including ghrelin, the hunger hormone. As said, acid reflux increases with a slow emptying stomach. Ghrelin improves gastrointestinal motility.  A study showed fasting may reduce acid reflux and improve symptoms of GERD due to a connection between ghrelin blood levels and reflux (3). When one fasts, ghrelin levels increase, the stomach empties quicker and reflux is reduced.

  • Being overweight is a risk factor for acid reflux, and it often improves upon weight loss (5). Intermittent fasting decreases insulin resistance, and thereby facilitates weight loss.

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How to avoid acid reflux when fasting

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Simple lifestyle and nutritional changes can usually reduce acid reflux during fasting in mild or occasional cases.

 

Here is a list of best practices to follow regarding intermittent fasting and acid reflux (6).

 

Do:

  • Eat small amounts of food at a time during your eating window
  • Drink plain warm water slowly in small amounts during your fast and throughout the day
  • Lose weight
  • Prop yourself up in bed with pillows or raise the head of your bed six to eight inches to reduce reflux at night
  • Drink ginger or chamomile tea (7, 8)

 

Don’t:

  • Lie down for three hours after a meal.
  • Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications like aspirin or ibuprofen if possible
  • Drink coffee, alcohol, or carbonated beverages
  • Eat more than a small amount of fatty or fried foods, tomato sauces, chocolate, garlic, onion, citrus, or mint
  • Smoke.

 

The bottom line

Most people experience mild or occasional acid reflux during their lifetime. When it starts to happen multiple times a week, it can lead to more serious digestive problems.

When fasting, acid reflux symptoms occur due to an empty stomach continuing to produce the acids it typically uses for digestion. Because there is no food to break down, stomach acid levels increase and spill into the esophagus, causing pain, discomfort, and a feeling of burning.

In some cases, intermittent fasting improves acid reflux because it lowers blood sugar levels, which increases the rate at which the stomach empties. Intermittent fasting also decreases insulin resistance, resulting in weight loss. Both can relieve GER issues.

Making small lifestyle and dietary changes can help you avoid acid reflux when fasting.

Learn more ways to support your digestive system by joining our online intermittent fasting community of women.

References:

1.     Delavari A, Moradi G, Birjandi F, Elahi E, Saberifiroozi M. The Prevalence of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in the Islamic Republic of Iran: A Systematic Review. Middle East J Dig Dis. 2012;4(1):5-15.

2.     Feldman M, Richardson CT. Role of thought, sight, smell, and taste of food in the cephalic phase of gastric acid secretion in humans. Gastroenterology. 1986;90(2):428-433. doi:10.1016/0016-5085(86)90943-1

3.     Tseng P-H, Yang W-S, Liou J-M, et al. Associations of Circulating Gut Hormone and Adipocytokine Levels with the Spectrum of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. PLOS ONE. 2015. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0141410

4.     Krishnasamy S, Abell TL. Diabetic Gastroparesis: Principles and Current Trends in Management. Diabetes Ther. 2018;9(Suppl 1):1-42. doi:10.1007/s13300-018-0454-9

5.     Singh M, Lee J, Gupta N, et al. Weight loss can lead to resolution of gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms: a prospective intervention trial. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013;21(2):284-290. doi:10.1002/oby.20279

6.  9 Ways To Relieve Acid Reflux Without Medication. Harvard Health Publishing. 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/digestive-health/9-ways-to-relieve-acid-reflux-without-medication

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