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Spicy or Bland? 6 Acid Reflux Myths You Should Know

There are three words an acid reflux patient never wants to hear: “Bland, restricted diet.”

You already feel miserable, with symptoms of heartburn and/or regurgitation.

The last thing you want to do is give up your favorite comfort foods.

You may not have to. It turns out if you are craving that spicy enchilada, you probably can eat it after all.

We sought the truth on six common acid reflux myths concerning diet:

1. Myth: You should cut back on protein.

Fact: “It’s not all proteins, only the meat proteins,” said Tanya Zuckerbrot, nutritionist and author of The F-Factor. “Foods like hummus, peanut butter and soy products like tofu are OK to eat.”

2. Myth: Milk will soothe the pain of heartburn.

Fact: False. Although milk neutralizes acid in your stomach, the stomach responds by stimulating more acid, so the stomach’s lining is constantly trying to catch up.

On the contrary, many patients report that apple cider vinegar actually soothes the burning symptoms of GERD, although there has been little evidence to back it up.

"I really don’t know how it works," said Dr. Allan E. Sosin, founder and medical director of the Institute for Progressive Medicine in Irvine, Calif. "You would think it wouldn’t because it’s very acidic on its own. But lots of people respond to it really well. I think it may have something to do with the fact that it helps with digestion and a lot of acid reflux symptoms stem from not digesting food well.”

3. Myth: You should avoid all caffeine products, such as coffee, tea and chocolate.

Fact: Not necessarily. Zuckerbrot advises her patients with acid reflux to drink herbal teas and green teas, the latter of which have some caffeine.

However, Dr. Lauren Gerson, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Stanford University in California, advises her patients to continue drinking all of the above substances, unless they specifically increase their acid reflux symptoms.

Gerson looked at more than 2,000 studies published worldwide between 1974 and 2004 pertaining to acid reflux and determined that patients with the condition who stopped consuming substances such as alcohol, chocolate and spicy foods did not see an improvement in their symptoms.

She then looked at 100 studies pertaining to how lifestyle changes affect acid reflux and discovered the only way patients felt better was if they lost weight (even as little as 10 pounds) or raised the head of their bed.

Gerson and her colleagues published their study in the May 8, 2006 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

4. Myth: Mint will decrease your acid reflux symptoms.

Fact: Licorice is actually the way to go, because it is flavored with anise, which aids in digestion, Zuckerbrot said. Peppermint and spearmint may actually cause distress.

5. Myth: Alcohol is really bad for acid reflux patients.

Fact: “A lot of patients do come in saying they can’t tolerate red wine, Gerson said, but the majority of my patients say it’s OK.”

However, if alcohol does bother you, Zuckerbrot came up with an alternative: Absinthe, which was recently made legal in the United States. Like licorice, it is anise-based.

6. Myth: Acid reflux only affects people who have poor diets and bad lifestyles.

Fact: The truth is, you can eat all the right foods and exercise, and still end up with acid reflux, Gerson said.

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, affects millions of Americans. Many of them need to take proton pump inhibitors, or acid-reducing medicines like Nexium on a regular basis.

Acid reflux occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach pass up into the esophagus, and the sphincter muscle (the barrier between the two) has a defect, so it is unable to block the acid.