April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness month. Why is this important to a registered dietitian? With a focus on health and disease prevention, I frequently receive calls from individuals asking for diet/lifestyle tips to help manage their GI symptoms ranging from reflux/GERD, irritable bowel, gluten intolerance/Celiac Disease, etc. Most people have experienced reflux at one point in their life and know the unpleasant feeling. However, chronic reflux and GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease), especially when untreated, can lead to a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus which greatly increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer. For more information on Barrett’s, click here.
Luckily, I have the privilege to work with Dr. Fusco, a local surgeon who is skilled in treating Barrett’s Esophagus. Click here to learn more about Barrett’s/treatment options, and click here to learn more about Dr. Fusco and the Halo procedure to treat Barrett’s and significantly decrease your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
You can also visit Dr. Fusco’s website to learn more about the 2013 Esophageal Cancer Awareness Event which includes links to last year’s presentation slides, educational materials, and a patient testimonial/esophageal cancer survivor story.
If you have reflux/GERD, below are some of the most basic dietary guidelines to help manage and decrease symptoms:
- Limit the following foods/common GI irritants:
- Citrus fruits (orange/grapefruit, pineapple, lemon/lime)- Chocolate- Caffeine (soda, tea, coffee, caution with decaf varieties)- Fatty and fried foods- Rich foods heavy in butter/cream/whole milk/oils- Garlic and onions for some people- Spicy foods, hot sauce & hot peppers- Mint flavorings/peppermint- Tomato-based foods (ie. tomato juice, tomato sauces/pasta sauces, salsa, chili, pizza, etc.)
- Chew food well/eat slowly (focus on mindful eating & portion-control)
- Eat smaller, frequent meals consistently throughout the day
- Do not lay down for at least 2-3 hours after eating; limit late night snacks
- Seek treatment/help for any emotional eating/disordered eating (including binge-eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, & anorexia nervosa)
In addition to dietary interventions, these lifestyle tips are equally important:
- Maintain a healthy weight; even a 5-10% weight loss can help if you are overweight
- Work on managing stress/prioritize time for relaxation
- Try to stop smoking
- Limit strenuous activity immediately after eating
- Do not wear tight-fitting clothes/belts around your mid-section
- Elevate the head of your bed 6-8 inches
- Check with your doctor to make sure prescription/over-the-counter medications, vitamins/supplements are not making symptoms worse
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), esophageal cancer is 2nd only to lung cancer in preventability. This starts with living a healthy lifestyle in addition to managing and treating reflux, GERD, and Barrett’s Esophagus if you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions. AICR experts estimate that maintaining a healthy weight, following a balanced diet, and limiting alcohol (1 drink/day or less for females & 2 drinks/day or less for males) could prevent 7 out of every 10 cases of esophageal cancer in the U.S. every year – that’s over 12,000 cases this year alone! For more information on the AICR, including recipes/etc., visit their website.
Kristine Van Workum, RD, CSSD, LDN
LifeShape Registered Dietitian & Owner of Brevard Nutrition (www.brevardnutrition.com)