Sugar seems to affect acid reflux negatively. There is evidence that diets high in sugar lead to more frequent acid reflux and worse acid reflux symptoms. The same applies to diets high in fat, chocolate, and spicy foods.

Acid reflux is when stomach acid travels upward, toward or beyond the esophagus. This condition is common, with 20% of U.S. citizens experiencing some form of acid reflux.

Acid reflux can cause pain, including heartburn, as well as other issues. This article looks at the link between sugar consumption and acid reflux.

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There are two main forms of acid reflux. The first is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Scientists define this as a condition in which stomach acid travels into the esophagus, or “food pipe.”

There has been some research on GERD and sugar intake. According to a 2019 review, there is evidence that sugary foods can trigger GERD.

The review also notes that in some individuals, reducing sugary food intake can improve the symptoms of this condition.

The second form of acid reflux is laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).

Scientists define this as stomach acid that travels to the vocal cords and surrounding tissues.

Evidence shows that sugar intake may also worsen this form of acid reflux. For instance, one 2021 study of 1,517 teenagers found that higher sugar intake correlates with a higher risk of LPR.

Several foods may worsen acid reflux. According to a 2019 literature review, the following dietary factors could have this effect, at least when it comes to GERD:

  • higher fat intake
  • regular coffee consumption
  • regular chocolate consumption
  • spicy food consumption
  • alcohol and beer consumption

Individuals with GERD or LPR may wish to limit or avoid some of these foods. However, it is important to seek professional advice before making major dietary changes.

Aside from limiting or avoiding certain foods, some people might be able to manage GERD by adopting a lower-carb or Mediterranean diet.

Furthermore, research suggests that eating shortly before bedtime can worsen acid reflux, regardless of a person’s diet.

Many people and doctors are concerned about the potential health effects of too much dietary sugar. For this reason, scientists and food manufacturers have developed several sugar substitutes.

These taste sweet but have far fewer calories. Some FDA-approved sugar substitutes include:

Swapping some dietary sugars for a sugar substitute could reduce acid reflux. However, not all experts believe that these sweeteners are safe.

According to the FDA, some studies suggest that certain sweeteners have a carcinogenic effect. This would mean that consuming these sweeteners in large enough doses could increase the risk of some cancers.

This is a matter of scientific debate, as the FDA does not interpret those findings this way.

As the aforementioned 2019 review notes, having a higher body mass index (BMI) correlates with an increased risk of GERD.

The review does not state whether a higher BMI itself causes or worsens GERD. For instance, this correlation may exist because higher sugar intake increases the potential for both GERD and a higher BMI.

Scientists also consider weight loss to be an important aspect of treatment for LPR. However, as with GERD, the medical community is unsure about exactly why this might be.

Acid reflux is when stomach acid moves upward. It can affect the esophagus, causing GERD. It can also affect the vocal cords and surrounding tissues, causing LPR. Both kinds of acid reflux are sensitive to sugar intake.

Evidence shows that GERD is more likely to arise in those who consume more sugar. These individuals may also experience worse GERD symptoms, such as heartburn.

There is also evidence that eating more sugar correlates with higher rates of LPR, at least in teenagers.

Other foods seem to increase the severity of GERD. These include fatty and spicy foods and chocolate. Drinks such as coffee, beer, and wine can also potentially worsen GERD.

Importantly, all foods have a higher risk of triggering acid reflux if an individual consumes them shortly before bedtime.