People with milder heartburn problems might find some relief from deep breathing exercises, a small clinical trial suggests.
It is a general belief that Breathing exercises are good for people suffering from respiratory complains. However the health benefits of breathing exercises are not limited to respiratory system. The recent study reported in the American Journal of Gastroenterology confirms the additional benefits of breathing exercise.
Researchers found in small clinical trial that involved 19 adults with mild gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD);"belly breathing" exercises help reduce people's acid reflux, and eventually lessen their need for acid-suppressing medication. On the base of findings researchers assume that some people might be able to breathe their way to greater heartburn relief. But whether that's truly the case requires more research.
The abnormal opening of oesophagus (food pipe) ring is the leading cause of acid reflux. So it's possible that deep abdominal breathing might help with GERD by strengthening surrounding muscles of the diaphragm, thought Dr. Karl Martin Hoffmann, the senior researcher on the study.
To understand it, Hoffmann and his colleagues at Medical University Graz, in Austria, recruited 19 men and women with milder GERD -- milder in that they had no erosive damage to the esophagus. But their heartburn was bad enough that they were using acid-suppressing proton-pump inhibitors, which include medications like omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and esomeprazole (Nexium).
Hoffmann's team randomly assigned the patients into two groups. In one, people learned abdominal breathing exercises from a physical therapist, and were told to perform them daily for 30 minutes. The other group served as a "control" and did not learn the exercises.
The researchers used a tiny catheter threaded through the nose and into the esophagus to take measurements of how much acid was getting into each participant's esophagus.
After one month, people in the breathing-exercise group showed a drop, on average, in the amount of acid reaching the esophagus. They also reported improvements in their quality of life, including heartburn symptoms.
After that first month, the rest of the study participants learned the breathing exercises. And nine months later, patients who''''d stuck with the therapy were using medication less often -- cutting down to about one-quarter of their weekly dose at the study's start, the researchers found.
One issue, though, was that only 11 out of the 19 patients actually stuck with the exercises. Some said they just preferred to take medication, some said they lacked the time for the exercises, and some admitted to being "too lazy."
Researcher's and Expert's view
"I'm not sure what to think of the results because it''''s such a small study," said Dr. Neil Toribara, a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver.But if the breathing exercises are proven to help some people with GERD, it would be a welcome addition to the heartburn arsenal, said Toribara, who was not involved in the study.
"We wouldn't have to worry about side effects," he noted in an interview. And anything that can help people curb their reliance on medication -- which can have side effects -- "would be a good thing," Toribara said. Both Hoffmann and Toribara said that breathing exercises are likely to have limited appeal. "This method is definitely not 'the easy way out' for GERD patients if they want to try to control their symptoms," Hoffmann told Reuters Health in an email. "Swallowing anti-reflux pills is of course still very effective and much easier to do." So even if breathing exercises are proven useful in larger studies, Toribara said, it's not clear how popular the approach will become. "It's not something that would work immediately," he pointed out. "And we are a society that likes instantaneous results."
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