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Can a Low-Carb Diet Cure Reflux?

A low FODMAP diet can bring relief from IBS and other intestinal miseries. But could it also be the answer for chronic heartburn?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
3-minute read
Episode #488

And this is where I would usually say: "It’s worth a try! If it helps alleviate your symptoms and doesn’t do any harm, then it doesn’t really matter why it works, does it?" Better is better.

But now, let me quote the rest of Lisa’s email:

"I've been trying it for about three weeks and it hasn't helped yet. At the same time, my energy level during strenuous exercise (hiking and biking long distances) is awful; I just feel so weak and tired. Is it reasonable to eliminate effects of acid reflux AND maintain energy for exercise using this method?"

It is possible to train your body to convert fat more efficiently into fuel during exercise. This is sometimes referred to as being "keto-adapted" or "fat-adapted." However, athletes who follow low-carb diets for an extended period of time become less able to utilize carbohydrates as fuel. There may be advantages to maintaining metabolic flexibility, which I talked about in my episode Carbs or Fat: Which is the Body’s Preferred Fuel Source?.

But if the approach isn’t reducing your reflux symptoms, this may be a moot point.

It takes about six to eight hours for food to move through the stomach and small intestines. Once it hits the large intestine, things slow down considerably. It can take anywhere from one to three days for that material to move through the final meter and a half of large intestine. (Considerably less if you’re suffering from diarrhea).

Three weeks of limiting carbohydrates should be more than enough time to see an effect. In Lisa’s case, the approach isn’t reducing her symptoms and seems to be having a negative effect on her energy and stamina. I’d say it’s time to bail on this test.

Unfortunately, reflux symptoms are usually treated with acid-reducing drugs which, ironically, can make both reflux and SIBO worse. For some tips on other approaches, please see my episode on how to avoid acid reflux as well as this surprising reflux tip.

Image © Shutterstock

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.