Does Going Gluten-Free Help Reduce Your Risk Of GERD?

The Mayo Clinic says that GERD (gastroesophogeal reflux disease) is a condition that happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the muscular tube that propels food from the throat to the stomach. Many people will have occasional acid reflux, they write, but GERD occurs when there is mild acid reflux a couple of times a week or moderate to severe acid reflux at least weekly.

WebMD explains that normally acid remains in the stomach because there is a ring of muscle at the base of the esophagus that prevents it from traveling upward. If this muscle becomes weak, however, it can allow stomach acid to pass into the unprotected esophagus. This causes the burning and irritation in the chest that is often referred to as heartburn.

The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders notes that certain foods can trigger or worsen GERD symptoms, including fatty foods, caffeine, chocolate, onions, peppermint, carbonated drinks, alcohol, citrus, and tomatoes. Everyday Health discusses how there might also be a link between GERD and gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, barley, and triticale.

Can a gluten-free diet help GERD?

Verywell Health notes that celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune condition that can occur in people who have certain genes that make them prone to it. When these people eat gluten, their body's immune system attacks the small intestine, causing damage to the villi. CD can manifest as several gastrointestinal symptoms, including heartburn. It can also cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and many more symptoms.

While it is uncertain what, if any link, exists between CD and GERD, the current body of evidence seems to show a connection. A literature review published in the September 2011 issue of Diseases of the Esophagus found that celiac patients have GERD symptoms more often than people without the condition. Additionally, the studies they cited found that people with gluten intolerance responded better to GERD treatment when they avoided gluten and that fewer had their symptoms return. This led the researchers to speculate that a gluten-free diet might help CD patients with GERD.

The Mayo Clinic suggests people with CD may need to remain on a strict gluten-free diet for the rest of their lives in order to avoid symptoms. According to WebMD, testing for CD includes blood testing for antibodies and genetic testing for the associated genes. Endoscopy can also be done to look for damage in the intestinal tract. It is necessary to eat gluten before testing, so Beyond Celiac advises that people shouldn't try to eliminate gluten beforehand.