Heartburn and Spicy Foods

John P.

HeartburnAccording to Lauren Gerson, a practicing gastroenterologist for seven years and director of Stanford’s Esophageal and Small Bowel Disorder Center, there is currently no evidence to show that any of the dietary restrictions usually recommended make a difference when it comes to easing heartburn symptoms.

They found only two lifestyle changes for which there was evidence of a clear benefit from making a change.

  1. First, if you’re overweight, then losing some pounds will reduce or even eliminate the amount of heartburn you suffer.
  2. Second, raising the head of your bed will cut down on the amount of stomach acid that can enter your esophagus while you sleep.

In the May 8 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, Gerson and two other physicians at the School of Medicine—Tonya Kaltenbach, MD, and Seth Crockett, MD—published the results of a systematic survey they conducted of more than 2,000 studies published worldwide on heartburn, also known as acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), between 1975 and 2004.

They found 100 studies looking at lifestyle factors thought to be associated with heartburn. Only 16 of those studies examined how implementing lifestyle changes affect heartburn symptoms, and these studies were the focus of their article.

The research reveals that people with heartburn can safely eat spicy foods. The review shows that limiting intake of chocolate, caffeine, spicy foods, and citrus fruits doesn’t eliminate heartburn symptoms or lower esophageal pH.

Bottom line, the study found that the best strategy was to eat less food, period.


  1. Hartmann Koenig says

    I’ve always been suspicious of the spicy foods theory since that’s never been an influence in my own experience. Much more influential (again, in my own experience) has been those occasions when I overeat. And on top of that, the time of day I overeat. If I consume a big meal in the middle of the day, I rarely suffer from heartburn. However, if I consume a big meal late in the day, shortly before going to bed … that’s almost a guarantee of trouble.

    Eat less and give yourself at least three hours after your last meal before you head for bed … that’s always worked best for me.

  2. verisha says

    I am a third year dietetics student at the University of Kwa-zulu Natal. I require permission for the use of the pictures on your website for a power point presentation. i would really appriciate feedback.

  3. raymond harper says

    I have had acid reflux disease for over ten years and have taken a Proton Pump Inhibitor called Omeprazole to stop the acid. It did a great job and I could lead a normal life, eating and drinking what I wanted without any symptoms. This was until a doctor told me I should reduce the dosage from 20mg to 10mg per day because of long term side effects. I did this and the symptoms of heartburn returned very quickly.

    I tried a few different ways to treat the heartburn without success. Then I went on a diet recently to lose some weight. I have lost a bit but the main benefit was that the heartburn was reduced so much that I now only take the acid reflux medication occasionally. This is a great change in my life and I have read many comments from other people that the food they ate had a lot to do with the prevention of their acid reflux. To get rid of heartburn lifestyle changes especially to the diet does work.

  4. says

    I would say it is a surprising research result. Diet change is probably one of the most effective changes that helped me to reduce my heartburn. And spicy food is guaranteed to give me heartburn. Probably it is specific to the fact that I wasn’t eating much of spicy food in my childhood. So It is probably related to the way your stomach develops.


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