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Is olive oil good for acid reflux?

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a common condition where stomach acid frequently flows back up into the esophagus. This can cause symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, trouble swallowing, and a bitter taste in the mouth. Many people experience acid reflux occasionally, but for some it becomes a chronic problem impacting their daily life and potentially causing damage to the esophagus over time.

Making lifestyle and diet changes is often recommended as a first line treatment for acid reflux. One question that often comes up is whether olive oil is helpful or harmful for acid reflux symptoms. Olive oil is widely recognized as a healthy fat, but how does it impact acid reflux specifically? Here we’ll review the evidence available to determine if olive oil is good or bad for acid reflux.

Olive oil basics

Before diving into olive oil and acid reflux, let’s cover some olive oil basics. Olive oil is a plant oil extracted from olives, the fruit of olive trees. It has been consumed in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years and is now popular worldwide. The main types of olive oil are:

  • Extra virgin olive oil -highest quality oil from the first pressing of olives. Has the most antioxidant compounds.
  • Virgin olive oil -also from the first pressing but has slightly higher acidity than extra virgin.
  • Refined olive oil – processed with heat and chemicals to remove flaws and neutralize the taste.
  • Light olive oil – refined olive oil blended with virgin olive oil.
  • Pure olive oil – mix of refined and virgin olive oils.

Extra virgin olive oil is considered the healthiest type with the most antioxidant, anti-inflammatory benefits. It also has the strongest olive flavor. Refined olive oils and olive oil blends have less overall benefits but a more neutral taste.

Olive oil is unique among oils due to its high content of oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid. It also contains beneficial plant compounds like polyphenols that act as antioxidants in the body. Compared to other cooking oils and fats, extra virgin olive oil has been associated with many potential health benefits including:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Controlled blood sugar and reduced diabetes risk
  • Slower mental decline with aging
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Anti-cancer benefits

These are some of the main reasons why olive oil is often recommended as a healthy part of a balanced diet. But how does olive oil stack up specifically when it comes to acid reflux?

Olive oil and acid reflux

Here is a summary of key research examining the impact of olive oil on acid reflux:

May reduce inflammation

Several studies have found that extra virgin olive oil can reduce inflammation in diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and metabolic syndrome. It’s believed that beneficial compounds like oleocanthal and oleuropein provide these anti-inflammatory effects.

Acid reflux itself can damage the esophagus and create inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties in olive oil could help reduce this inflammation and promote healing of the esophageal lining.

Better than butter or sunflower oil

A small crossover study had patients with heartburn follow three different diets for 2 week periods – a diet with olive oil, a diet with butter, and a diet with sunflower oil.They found that the olive oil diet reduced heartburn symptoms and acidity in the esophagus compared to butter or sunflower oil.

This may be due to olive oil’s anti-inflammatory effects, as well as its ability to help the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) contract better to prevent reflux compared to the other fats. The study used extra virgin olive oil.

May benefit after heavy meals

One study found that consuming olive oil after a high-fat meal helped reduce the acidity and esophageal inflammation otherwise caused by the meal.

Researchers had participants eat a meal high in saturated fat, which is known to trigger reflux. One group consumed 40ml of extra virgin olive oil immediately after the meal. Biopsies of the esophagus showed that the olive oil helped limit inflammation and damage from the high-fat meal compared to not consuming the olive oil.

Not necessarily better than other plant oils

Some research has found olive oil to help reduce heartburn compared to saturated fats like butter. But many studies have found it is not necessarily better for acid reflux symptoms than other healthy plant oils.

For example, one study compared the effects of consuming corn oil, olive oil, and n-3 enriched fish oils. They found that all three oils reduced acid reflux symptoms similarly in patients with GERD following a high-fat meal. Another study found that olive oil, sunflower oil, andcamelina oil all limited acid reflux compared to dairy fat.

So while olive oil appears more beneficial than butter and animal fats, other unsaturated plant oils may confer similar antireflux benefits. This may be because they have a high mono or polyunsaturated fat content without saturated fat, which is known to aggravate reflux.

Best not consumed in large amounts

Most studies showing benefits of olive oil on acid reflux administered a modest amount -around 1-2 tablespoons. Consuming much larger amounts in a sitting could potentially still aggravate acid reflux.

One study found that consuming 25ml (about 5 teaspoons) of olive oil reduced esophageal acid exposure after eating. But a higher dose of 50ml (about 10 teaspoons) of olive oil increased esophageal acidity the same as drinking 150ml of water.

Moderation still seems key. While a small amount of olive oil may help limit reflux, excessive intake could make matters worse.

Other tips for using olive oil with acid reflux

Here are some other tips on how to best use olive oil if you have frequent acid reflux:

– Stick to extra virgin olive oil for the most benefits – the higher quality oil has more anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.

– Add it raw after cooking or drizzle on salads and veggies. Heating olive oil at high temperatures can damage some of its beneficial plant compounds.

– Use it in moderation – 1-2 tbsp per meal is usually enough for benefits. Avoid drinking it by the glassful.

– Take it after meals – some research has found that a spoonful of olive oil after eating can help limit acid reflux from the meal.

– Substitute olive oil for other fats – use in place of butter, margarine, or heavy creams in recipes to limit saturated fat.

– Try milder olive oil varieties – if the strong flavor of extra virgin bothers your symptoms, opt for light olive oil or pure olive oil.

– Use olive oil capsules – easier to get a controlled dosage. Look for brands standardized to deliver key olive oil polyphenols.

The bottom line

Here is a summary of the key points on olive oil and acid reflux:

– The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds in olive oil may help reduce inflammation from acid reflux.

– Olive oil appears better for acid reflux symptoms compared to saturated fats like butter.

– Other healthy unsaturated plant oils like canola or avocado oil may confer similar benefits as olive oil.

– Consuming a modest amount of olive oil (1-2 tbsp) with a meal may help limit reflux, but large amounts could aggravate it.

– Olive oil is best used raw or added at the end of cooking to preserve beneficial compounds.

– Extra virgin olive oil provides the biggest benefits, but lighter varieties are an option if you don’t like the taste.

So is olive oil good for acid reflux? Research indicates that it is likely better than many other cooking fats and oils when used in moderation. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can help reduce damage from acid while preserving the healthy mono-unsaturated fat content. Just be mindful of portion size and stick to extra virgin or virgin olive oil if you can tolerate the flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does olive oil help with acid reflux?

Olive oil contains beneficial plant compounds that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories in the body. These effects are thought to help reduce inflammation caused by acid reflux and promote healing of the esophageal lining. Olive oil is also mostly unsaturated fat, which is easier to digest than saturated fats and less likely to aggravate reflux.

Is extra virgin or regular olive oil better for acid reflux?

Extra virgin olive oil is considered the healthiest type and provides the most benefits for acid reflux. It has higher levels of antioxidants like polyphenols and is less processed. Regular or light olive oil is refined and stripped of some of these beneficial compounds. But regular olive oil may be an acceptable alternative if you don’t like the strong taste of extra virgin.

How much olive oil should you take for acid reflux?

Research shows benefits for acid reflux with around 1-2 tablespoons (15-30ml) of olive oil per meal. Consuming much larger amounts could aggravate reflux. It’s best to use olive oil in moderation along with an overall healthy, balanced diet. Some people also find taking 1 tbsp of olive oil after a meal helps limit reflux symptoms.

Is cooking with olive oil bad for acid reflux?

Cooking with olive oil is not necessarily bad, but heating olive oil, especially at high heat, can damage some of its beneficial plant compounds. To maximize benefits, its best to add olive oil raw to cooked foods or dressings. If cooking with it, try gentle heating and don’t let it smoke or burn.

Can you take olive oil supplements for acid reflux?

Olive oil supplements in capsule form are an option. This allows for a convenient way to get a controlled dose of olive oil. Look for brands that are standardized to contain beneficial compounds like oleuropein. Take as directed by the supplement label. Always check with your doctor before trying supplements.

The Bottom Line

Research indicates that olive oil can be a good choice when looking to minimize acid reflux symptoms. Its anti-inflammatory effects help reduce damage from acid, and its predominately unsaturated fat content is easier to digest than saturated fats. Olive oil provides the most benefits when used raw in moderate amounts, with extra virgin olive oil being the best option. While not a cure-all, incorporating some olive oil into an overall healthy diet and lifestyle can be beneficial for managing occasional acid reflux.