A person experiencing acid reflux and weight loss may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Individuals with these symptoms should talk with their doctor.
Keep reading to learn how GERD may lead to weight loss, when to contact a doctor, and how an individual with the condition can regain the weight they have lost.
Gastroesophageal reflux (GEF) is another name for acid reflux. It involves the contents of a person’s stomach backing up into the food pipe, also known as the esophagus.
When GEF frequently occurs, it is called GERD, a condition that affects about 20% of people in the United States, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Without treatment, GERD can have serious effects. One possible complication is Barrett’s esophagus, where tissue similar to the intestinal lining replaces the tissue lining the esophagus. About 0.5% of people with Barrett’s esophagus develop esophageal cancer per year.
A person with GERD may experience nausea and difficulty or pain when they swallow. Over time, the condition may lead to a loss of appetite and persistent vomiting, indicating complications of GERD.
Although individuals with this condition may not be trying to lose weight, they may end up consuming less food because of the symptoms that affect their eating and digestion. This is why unexplained weight loss is a possible complication of the condition.
Between 10–15% of people who have GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus. While Barrett’s esophagus does not trigger symptoms, if someone with the condition has GERD, they may have GERD symptoms, including those that contribute to weight loss.
Having excess weight is one of the risk factors for GERD. However, without treatment, GERD may sometimes cause weight loss weight and lead to a person having insufficient weight.
Excess weight is a particularly important risk factor when it comes to the abdominal area, known as visceral fat. This is because the fat in this region secretes inflammatory hormones that increase a person’s risk of developing GERD complications.
In addition to belly fat, people with obesity or excess weight tend to have other conditions that raise the risk of GERD, including:
- a higher prevalence of esophageal motion disorders
- increased pressure within the belly
- increased stomach capacity
- a larger number of function issues in the esophageal sphincter, a muscular ring that closes to prevent food in the stomach from backing up into the esophagus
Since having excess weight increases the risk of GERD, researchers theorize that losing weight may improve the condition. An
The study results showed symptoms improved in 81% of the participants and resolved in 65% of them. The study authors report that a structured weight loss program can result in complete relief of GERD symptoms for those with obesity or excess weight.
Once people have GERD and the condition becomes chronic, weight loss may occur due to eating- and appetite-related complications. While having excess weight can increase the risk of GERD and many other health conditions, having insufficient weight can also be
People may lower their health risk from insufficient weight if they gain enough weight to put them in the healthy body mass index (BMI) range. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a healthy BMI ranges from
The NIDDK recommends people visit their doctor if they experience symptoms of GERD that do not decrease after making lifestyle adjustments or using over-the-counter drugs.
Symptoms of GERD include:
- heartburn, a burning sensation in the middle of the chest
- regurgitating food from the stomach into the esophagus, which may cause a person to taste food or stomach acid
- problems swallowing
- chest pain
Individuals should also speak with their doctor if they experience symptoms of GERD complications or other serious health conditions. These include:
- chest pain
- persistent vomiting
- loss of appetite
- difficulty or pain when swallowing
- signs of bleeding in the intestinal tract, such as black, tarry stools, or vomit that appears similar to coffee grounds
Health experts advise people who have insufficient to eat more healthy fats, such as olives, avocadoes, nuts, and fatty fish. They also recommend:
- eating more healthy carbohydrates, such as brown rice and fresh fruit
- eating more frequent meals and snacks throughout the day
- consuming nutrient-rich liquid calories, such as smoothies, milk, and meal replacement shakes
- avoiding diet foods and beverages
- limiting liquids before meals, as this may fill people up and decrease how much they eat at mealtimes
- adding nutrient- and calorie-rich foods to meals and snacks, such as peanut butter, cheese, nuts, avocado, granola, hummus, and guacamole
- cooking vegetables in olive oil or topping them with cheese, nuts, or seeds to add calories
However, because unintentional weight loss results from GERD complications, a person should do whatever they can to improve their condition. This involves making the lifestyle and dietary adjustments that doctors may recommend. Avoiding common food triggers, including acidic, spicy, and high fat foods, as well as alcohol and caffeine, may also be helpful.
The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders also advises:
- maintaining an upright position for 3 hours following a meal
- avoiding exercise after a meal
- eating small rather than large meals
- consuming your largest meal midday instead of at night
If lifestyle changes do not reduce symptoms, people can talk with their doctor about medical treatments. A healthcare professional can also refer someone to a registered dietitian for an individualized eating plan to promote healthy weight gain and diet modifications to reduce GERD symptoms.
A person with acid reflux-related weight loss should get medical attention to improve their GERD. They may benefit from lifestyle changes that doctors recommend to reduce symptoms that can lead to decreased food intake and unintentional weight loss.
In any case, because having insufficient weight can pose a health risk, an individual needs to consult with a doctor to address this condition.