Low prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux symptoms in vegetarians

Indian J Gastroenterol. 2021 Apr;40(2):154-161. doi: 10.1007/s12664-021-01156-w. Epub 2021 Apr 12.


Background: Dietary modification could reduce the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Circumstantial evidence suggests that gastroesophageal reflux is less prevalent in people adhering to a vegetarian diet. We aimed to study the relationship between vegetarianism and the occurrence of gastroesophageal reflux symptoms (GERS).

Methods: This study compares the prevalence of GERS in vegetarians with non-vegetarian controls from the general population. Frequency and severity of GERS (heartburn and/or acid regurgitation) were assessed with a self-administrated questionnaire.

Results: Within 1 year, any GERS were experienced by 19 of 100 (19%) vegetarians and by 98 of 250 (39.2%) non-vegetarian controls (p < 0.001). Frequent GERS, defined as GERS on at least 1 day per week, were noted in 3% of vegetarians and in 12.8% of controls (p = 0.006). Reflux symptoms were significantly less severe in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians (p < 0.001). According to multivariable analysis, independent predictors of GERS included male sex, current smoking, BMI ≥ 25 (odds ratio [OR] = 1.94; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.14-3.31), and a non-vegetarian diet (OR = 2.19; 95% CI, 1.20-3.97); non-vegetarian diet independently predicted frequent GERS (OR 4.03; 95% CI, 1.17-13.9). An increased risk of GERS (OR = 2.17; 95% CI, 1.09-4.29) and frequent GERS (OR 4.00; 95% CI, 1.13-14.18) in non-vegetarians were also demonstrated by logistic regression of matched data. In non-vegetarians, the risk of reflux symptoms was not significantly related to meat intake.

Conclusions: The prevalence and severity of GERS are lower in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians from the general population. The results are in line with a mitigating effect of vegetarianism on GERS. Data must be interpreted with caution given the retrospective study design and the small sample size.

Keywords: Diet; GERD; Gastric acid reflux; Gastroesophageal reflux; Lifestyle; Retrospective study; Surveys; Vegetarian diet; Vegetarianism.

MeSH terms

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux* / epidemiology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux* / etiology
  • Heartburn*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vegetarians