We all know that water is important for good health, but does it also have a role in managing the symptoms of acid reflux? Could drinking water stop GERD symptoms? Some people think so, but very few GERD sufferers use water as part of their treatment plan since very few physicians will suggest water to reflux sufferers, recommending OTC and prescription medications instead. Since RefluxMD is launching a small, unscientific study on the use of alkaline water for symptom management, we thought it would be a good time to cover several health aspects of water in general, as well as its potential to manage GERD symptoms.
Water is critical for good health
Since it is estimated that 55% to 60% of our bodies are water, proper hydration should be a goal for good health. You may have experienced some of the more obvious signs of dehydration such as diminished alertness, headaches, sleepiness, and dry mouth. Severe dehydration can also lead to a greater intensity of those symptoms, as well as low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, fever, and rapid breathing. Adequate hydration is important for proper digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients. Inadequate hydration can impair the digestive process resulting in poor nutrition and constipation.
But can it stop GERD Symptoms?
Some GERD suffers find that at the onset of heartburn, a few swallows of water may sometimes work to stop GERD symptoms. This may be a result of the water neutralizing and rinsing away the acids that have found their way into the esophagus. Of course, if a meal portion was too large, this water may also add to the contents of the stomach, aggravating an existing problem of an overfilled stomach. Water can be beneficial assuming proper portion control at mealtime along with avoidance of known trigger foods.
What is pH?
Since neutralization was mentioned, it is important to cover a few concepts of acidity and alkalinity. Most GERD sufferers understand acidity, especially in the stomach, which is naturally acidic. Acidity and alkalinity are measured by a pH factor that ranges from 1 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral, a pH measured between 1 and 7 is acidic, and a pH measured from 7 to 14 is alkaline. To make this a bit more complex, the change in a numeric value of 1 is a 10-fold increase in alkalinity or acidity.
The role of pH in digestion
The stomach is very acidic, typically around a pH of 2 at rest. However, to aid food digestion, the pH of the stomach will secrete acid during a meal. The exact pH during a meal varies because the acid secreted is diluted by food, which is usually alkaline. The stomach then becomes more acidic and it can reach a pH of between 1 and 2, especially following a high protein meal such as a cheeseburger and fries. It should be noted that the stomach will respond to any change in pH and attempt to return its pH to a “normal” level. Importantly, it has been shown that the pH of the stomach during a meal is not uniform throughout the stomach.
It is recommended that water is sipped as needed during a meal. The stomach requires high acid levels to properly digest food. Water can reduce the acidity and lengthen the digestion time as the stomach seeks to return the pH to the proper level. Also, this added water increases the total portion of the meal, and smaller meal portions are advisable for anyone suffering from acid reflux. It is best to drink water before a meal and between meals.
Now, what about alkaline water with a pH of 9?
It is important to note that water with a pH of 9 is 100 times more alkaline than normal tap water with a pH of 7. Hence, to change the pH in the highly acidic pocket at the top of the food column, less alkaline water should be required, as compared to normal tap water, and the results should be faster. When the stomach is full, a smaller quantity of alkaline water will produce a greater dilution of the acid versus tap water. Since antacids (such as Tums, Rolaids, etc) are designed to reduce the acid level, and these drugs have proven effective in controlling heartburn and stop GERD symptoms, it is reasonable to assume that alkaline water should have a similar impact over a similar period of time.
However, there are two benefits to using alkaline water compared to antacids or acid reducers. First, water is a natural remedy free of more complex chemicals. Second, as we mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, hydration is essential to good health and good digestion. For some, a natural remedy like alkaline water is a more attractive alternative. Now, will it work?
RefluxMD’s Alkaline Water Study
RefluxMD, with the assistance of AQUAhydrate®, a water company producing bottled alkaline water with a pH of 9 or higher, tested this theory. RefluxMD asked select RefluxMD members to track their symptoms and medication use for twelve days prior to switching to alkaline water, and then track the same data for twelve days while consuming alkaline water. We posted the results in an article titled; Relieve heartburn symptoms by drinking alkaline water. Frankly, we were surprised and you might be too!
Are you interested in trying alkaline water?
We would love to hear how you did, or will do, if you try alkaline water to manage your symptoms. For those of you that have had success or failure using alkaline water in the past, let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to try alkaline water to manage your symptoms, here are our recommendations:
When should you drink the alkaline water?
Drink the alkaline water in place of other liquids any time 1-hour before and 1-hour after meals.
What about during meals?
Since your stomach should be acidic during digestion, only drink small sips or small amounts of normal tap water during the meal.
What if I begin to feel symptoms?
As soon as you feel any symptoms, begin drinking the alkaline water and consume 6 to 8-ounces at a rate that is comfortable to you – preferably over five to fifteen minutes. If you engaged in a large meal and feel bloated, you may prefer to sip the water at a slower rate.
Can anti-reflux medication be taken as well?
Try to avoid the use of antacids or acid reducers (if you can) to determine the effect of the alkaline water on your symptoms. However, everyone is different so you should feel free to take medications if you need them to manage your symptoms.
What if I have nighttime symptoms?
Like antacid or acid reducers, alkaline water will have a short-term impact on your symptoms. However, we suggest you drink the equivalent of 6 to 12 ounces of alkaline water over several hours before bedtime. If you wake up during the night, we recommend you take a few sips of alkaline water at that time as well.
We would like to know your results with alkaline water to stop GERD symptoms
After a ten to twelve day evaluation, record your results and thoughts in any comment box that follows any of the articles posted on our website. We want to hear about your experience!
Reviewed by Dr. Para Chandrasoma, RefluxMD Scientific Director