Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Women who make healthy lifestyle choices, including keeping off excess body weight, can significantly reduce their risk for developing acid reflux, or heartburn, symptoms, a study published Monday by JAMA Internal Medicine found.
In addition, not smoking, drinking less coffee, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can further help lower their risk for acid reflux symptoms, the data showed.
"Our study demonstrates the critical importance of modifying one's diet and lifestyle to prevent reflux symptoms," study co-author Dr. Andrew T. Chan told UPI.
"Clinicians should use this evidence as additional incentive to counsel their patients about diet and lifestyle modifications to minimize the unnecessary use of medications," said Chan, vice chair of gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus, or the tube that connects the mouth and stomach, irritating its lining, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The condition, also known as acid reflux, affects nearly 30% of the U.S. population, research suggests.
For this study, Chan and his colleagues analyzed data on nearly 43,000 women aged 42 to 62 years, of whom nearly 9,300 were diagnosed with GERD.
They assessed study participants' risk for developing GERD based on five lifestyle factors, including maintaining a healthy body weight; staying physically active; not smoking; minimizing intake of coffee, tea, or soda; and eating a healthy diet.
Not smoking and limiting coffee, tea and soda intake to two servings or less per day reduced the risk for GERD symptoms among study participants by 10%, the data showed.
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly lowered study participants' risk for the condition by about 20%, the researchers said.
Finally, keeping to a healthy body weight dropped "the incidence of reflux symptoms by 40%," according to Chan.
"This is important since at present, it is far too easy to turn to medications to treat reflux symptoms," Chan said.
"Although effective in most patients, there are lingering concerns about the long-term side effects of taking medications such as proton pump inhibitors," he said.