Asthma and Acid Reflux

Patient Expert

Headline from the campaign trail: Hillary Clinton eats hot peppers to keep her revved up

"I eat a lot of hot peppers,'' she told CBS News anchor Katie Couric, who asked her how she maintains her stamina on the campaign trail. "I, for some reason started doing that in 1992, and I swear by it. I think it keeps my metabolism revved up and keeps me healthy."

Wow, hot peppers. Who knew?

"Much of the research on capsaicin involves pain relief, and capsaicin is a common ingredient in over-the-counter pain creams. The analgesic effect of the capsaicin found in peppers may help explain why Mrs. Clinton believes it makes her feel better."

Hmm interesting. In part of Oprah's series on "superfoods" with Dr. Perricone, hot peppers ranked number 7. They're said to help headaches; relieve arthritis and soothe sinuses. They're also anti-inflammatory and help with inflammatory bowel disease. Hot peppers may even prevent the growth of certain cancers and, if that wasn't enough, they are a fat-burner.

But if you are someone who suffers from asthma, you may want to hold off on chewing a raw jalapeño. There is a connection between asthma and chronic heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

GERD is the chronic backward flow of stomach acids into the esophagus leading to heartburn, regurgitation and nausea. Hot peppers are the last thing you should be chewing on. According to every site I looked, at peppers are a major no-no for those with a propensity towards heartburn, certainly anyone diagnosed with GERD:

"Spicy foods like: curries, garlic, hot sauce, jalapeño peppers, hot peppers, mustard, onion, salsa can irritate the lining of the esophagus and weaken or prevent the lower esophageal sphincter from working well."

The exact nature of the relationship between GERD and asthma is still unclear and requires further study. However, according to The Cleveland Clinic Department of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine: "It is estimated that more than 75% of patients with asthma also experience frequent heartburn, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). People with asthma are twice as likely to have GERD as those people who do not have asthma. Of the people with asthma, those who have a severe, chronic form of asthma that is resistant to treatment are most likely to also have GERD."

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), treatment for GERD and asthma can include the following lifestyle changes (check with your doctor for further information that is tailored to YOUR needs)

Lifestyle changes can include:

  • Elevating the head of the bed 6-8 inches
  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Limiting meal size and avoiding heavy evening meals
  • Not lying down within two to three hours of eating
  • Decreasing caffeine intake
  • Avoiding theophylline, if possible (Theophylline is a drug used to treat and prevent wheezing and trouble breathing caused by ongoing lung disease (e.g., asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis)