A Truly Burning Issue

The pain rivals that of the worst heartburn. Anything from tomato sauce to coffee can set it off.

But there is a way to prevent acid reflux disease.

Dr. Jonathan E. Aviv, MD, FACS, presented “Hard to Swallow: The Sweet and Sour of Acid Reflux Disease,” on April 16, which explained how to prevent acid reflux with “food as medicine,” as well as how this common medical condition has became an epidemic since the 1970s.

Approximately seven million Americans have acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which can lead to various cancers over time. Many medical professionals are aware of this issue and believe being aware of the problems caused by acid reflux is important.

“It’s very uncomfortable to live with and it can have serious health consequences,” Nina Jecker Byrne of SUNY New Paltz Communication Disorders Department said. “At worst, if it goes unnoticed and untreated, it can place the individual at risk of developing esophageal cancer, the fastest growing cancer in America.”

Many of the foods we eat regularly have a large impact on our digestive system as well as esophagus and larynx, which connected to swallowing, according to Aviv. Therefore, there are certain foods to avoid as much as possible; these include fast food and sodas, which are about as acidic as food can get. Other foods that have higher levels of acid include bottled iced tea, white wine, citrus, tomatoes, vinegar and yogurts packaged with fruits.

Though consuming acidic foods is not always avoidable, people can portion meals and snacks to ingest minimal amounts of acid as possible. Aviv also recommended the Acid Watcher Diet to help prevent acid reflux disease and acid consumption as much as possible.

However, he emphasized those with alarming symptoms such as frequent throat clearing, chronic cough, hoarseness or a lump-like sensation in the throat, may have acid reflux. He said if caught early, acid reflux can be treated and stopped before it does significant damage to the stomach and esophageal lining.

In his advocacy of healthier eating, Aviv warns against canned foods, which are also highly acidic.

FDA regulation Title 21 mandates that canned foods contain levels of acid in them to help prevent food poisoning and botulism. Also significant within major food industries include the use of high fructose corn syrup instead of the more expensive cane sugar. High fructose corn syrup, found within sodas and many snacks, contain unhealthy amounts of acid levels and over time can damage our digestive system.

A community member who attended the event, Joanna Caroly, said after hearing the presentation, her perspective changed on the FDA and food industry.

“We have to rally together to be honest with the American public,” Caroly said. “I learned quite a bit about GERD treatment regarding diet modification and better management about GERD for myself and patients.”

To improve her personal health, Caroly said she plans on implementing some recommended diet changes into her bad lifestyle to take care of her own esophagus and GI system.

Sarah Arnold, another audience member, said she hopes to focus on making her own food in the future due to a lack of trust in the prepared and packaged food industry.  She also said she is in favor of organic foods, which usually contain less acid.

Aviv further relayed more important lifestyle changes to help decrease chances of acquiring acid reflux, such as hydrating with water throughout the day, closing the kitchen at 7:30 p.m. to aid stomach digestion, refraining from smoking any substance and avoiding laying down within three hours of eating.