In this final article, I’m going to discuss how to get rid of heartburn and GERD naturally. The three steps I will discuss to do this will also help prevent heartburn and GERD from coming back. Keep in mind, successful treatment involves treating the individual, by getting a thorough history and thorough lab testing. This article outlines what has to be done in general. Please consult a functional medical or nutritional practitioner who has knowledge in this subject matter and can guide you the detailed process.
To review, heartburn and GERD are caused by low stomach acid, gut infections, and an overgrowth of bacteria. We have learned these causes are intertwined. To get rid of heartburn and GERD forever, we must focus our treatment on these causes.
Step 1 – Reduce factors that promote bacterial overgrowth and low stomach acid
Get your gut infections treated
We discussed how H. Pylori and SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) contribute to heartburn and GERD. Getting thorough gut testing that includes proper stool testing, breath tests, and urine tests is the key to find out if you have these conditions or other gut infections. If the test is positive for these underlying infections, you can get it treated with a specific protocol involving herbs, probiotics, prebiotics, diet, and lifestyle modifications.
Work in conjunction with your medical doctor and pharmacist
If you are on getting treated by your medical doctor or pharmacist for heartburn and acid reflux symptoms, there should be proper communication between you and all of your health practitioners involved to manage your case safely.
Practice stress management
Chronic stress lowers your stomach acid. (1) Successful treatment of any gut problem involves learning how to manage your stress. Meditation, yoga, camping, nature walks, art, gardening, are all tools to help you manage your stress.
Switch to a whole food nutrient dense diet
If your diet is typical of the average North American, you’re not doing yourself any favours. This diet would be filled with bread, cereals, sugar, unhealthy fats like canola oil or margarine, processed packaged foods, and excess alcohol. You have to be willing to change this to a nutrient dense diet to treat your heartburn and GERD. This would include meat (free range, grass fed and organic), seafood (wild), eggs (free range organic), vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats such as coconut oil, palm oil, grass fed butter, beef tallow, and pork lard.
A low-carb paleo diet and low-FODMAP diet can help in the short term. (2, 3) FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed. They can linger in the gut and become food for bacteria. A diet low in FODMAPs can starve and kill off an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. However, a low-carb Paleo diet for a lengthy period of time can put too much stress on the body and impact gut function in a negative manner. A very low carbohydrate diet may also increase your chances of a yeast infection within the gut. (4)
Involves an autoimmune attack, often against the cells in the stomach which make stomach acid. This can cause low stomach acid. If you have it, you may have to supplement with Betaine hydrochloric acid with pepsin to increase your stomach acid levels.
What’s causing your Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism can cause low stomach acid as well. (6) Then again, gut infections, food intolerances, and an imbalance in our stress hormones (cortisol) can cause hypothyroidism. Has your doctor done thorough gut testing and stress hormone testing? Have they tested for food intolerances? When they tested your blood did they do a full thyroid panel on you (more than just the TSH blood marker)?
Do you have atrophic gastritis (Inflammation of the stomach)
Step 2 – Replace stomach acid, enzymes, and nutrients that aid in digestion
Remember heartburn and GERD are largely due to low stomach acid not too much stomach acid. So you want to take something to replace your low amounts of stomach acid. That something is called Betaine hydrochloric acid (Betaine HCl) with pepsin. There is a specific protocol for figuring out your dosage. Do not take Betaine HCl if you are taking anti-inflammatories or have an ulcer.
Another way to help with acid production is to take bitter herbs like a product called Iberogast. Specific bitter herbs that can help are the following and are normally taken in in small doses: Barberry bark, Caraway, Dandelion, Fennel, Gentian root, Ginger, Globe artichoke, Goldenseal root, Hops, Milk thistle, Peppermint, Wormwood, and Yellow dock.
If you can not tolerate Betaine HCl or bitters try Apple Cider vinegar. Although it’s not as effective as Betaine HCl or bitters, it can help increase acid in the stomach. Take 1tsp to 2TBSP mixed with a cup of water and drink before your meal.
Digestive enzymes can also be taken with Betaine HCl in the early treatment of GERD. Ox bile can be added if you have signs of fat malabsorption, like greasy, light-colored stools that float, or fish oil burps, or sluggish bile metabolism, like itchy skin, indigestion, bitter tasting reflux, etc.
Try not to drink too much water or fluids when taking these supplements as they will dilute the stomach acid.
You need nutrients to produce stomach acid, bile, and digestive enzymes: Niacin, chloride, sodium, potassium, zinc, and iodine.
Step 3 – Restore beneficial bacteria and repair the mucosal lining of the gut
Bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and gut infections are major factors in heartburn and GERD. Restoring a healthy balance of good (beneficial) bacteria in your gut becomes an important final step in treating heartburn and GERD. The good bacteria keep the bad bacteria and other bad microorganisms in check so they don’t multiply and become a problem.
Probiotics are foods, drinks, or supplements that contain good gut bacteria.
It’s best to ingest probiotics from fermented foods as they contain more organisms than commercial probiotic supplements. The fermented foods that are good to ingest on a daily basis are: plain yogurt and kefir (if you can tolerate dairy), kamboucha (drink), unpasteurized (raw) sauerkraut, and kimchi.
That said, probiotic supplements are necessary to take when treating bacterial overgrowth and gut infections. However, all probiotic supplements aren’t created equally. Some have specific uses, and some may make your symptoms worse. For example, if you have SIBO, taking the standard probiotics that have the strain of bacteria in it called Lactobacillus acidophilus may make your symptoms worse.
Probiotics support your good gut bacteria that are already in your gut and help control your immune system. They don’t really stay in your gut for a long period of time and increase your good gut bacteria. What probiotics do is create an environment that is favourable for your good gut bacteria to thrive. It is the prebiotics, not the probiotics, that feed your good gut bacteria and help them grow.
Prebiotics are foods and supplements you can ingest that feed the good gut bacteria to make them grow and thrive.
Prebiotic foods (fermentable fibers) are vegetables, fruit, starchy tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro root, yuca root, and yams), nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Eating a diverse amount of fermentable fibers helps the good bacteria diversify and grow. However, it can be difficult in the modern diet to get enough of these foods and many of us don’t eat the variety of wild fibrous plants and tubers that hunter-gatherers ate.
One way to get more of a variety of prebiotics to restore your good gut bacteria is to supplement. You have to be careful when taking prebiotic supplements because some aren’t well tolerated. I recommend you seek out a healthcare practitioner that has a good knowledge base on this subject matter. Some examples of prebiotic supplements are partially hydrolyzed guar gum, glucomannan, acacia, BiotaGen, GalactoImmune.
One other class of fermentable fiber I want to mention is called resistant starch. There are many benefits of resistant starch so I will save that discussion for a future article. Resistant starch includes the following foods that you would cook and cool to eat: green plantains, green bananas, potatoes, white parboiled rice, and lentils. The easiest way to supplement with resistant starch is to buy gluten-free unmodified potato starch (Bob’s Red Mills). You would start slowly taking 1/4-1/2 tsp building eventually up to 2 to 4TBSP per day. You can mix this with a cool (not hot) liquid.
Bone broth and DGL
Repairing a healthy gut lining is another major part of the heartburn and GERD treatment and recovery process. Chronic stress, overgrowth of bacteria, gut infections, and medications such as anti-inflammatories (i.e. Ibuprofen and aspirin) can damage the lining of the stomach and gut. It is the lining of the stomach which protects it from its’ own acid. When you start making more stomach acid again or raising the acid levels with Betaine HCl you want to make sure the gut lining is repaired. If you don’t repair the gut lining and stomach lining, you may start to feel stomach pain and get ulcers.
Homemade both broths are effective at repairing the gut lining of the stomach. Bone broth is rich in collagen, glycine. gelatin, proline, and glutamine. These are all important substances that have been shown to help with ulcers and repairing the gut. (9, 10) Drink one to two cups of bone broth daily.
Adding supplements to help repair the gut lining may have to be added. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), mastic gum, MSM, zinc carnosine, vitamin C, and glycine are effective for restoring healthy gut lining. (11, 12)
What if the natural treatment doesn’t work?
There will be some cases where treating heartburn and GERD naturally may not work. Sometimes there is too much tissue damage in the esophagus and you have to get the lower esophageal sphincter (valve between the stomach and esophagus) repaired with surgery. It would advisable you consult with a knowledgeable physician if you have a severe case of heartburn and GERD. This would be recommended as well if you have tried a natural approach such as I have suggested and you still aren’t improving,
Ignoring the underlying causes of heartburn and GERD promotes bacterial overgrowth, nutrient deficiency, increased risk of infection, and an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.
Heartburn and GERD can be easily prevented and cured by treating the underlying problem, and by making simple dietary and lifestyle changes as I have discussed in this article.
I hope these series of heartburn and GERD articles have helped you and your friends discover the truth behind heartburn and GERD. And I hope it has given you confidence that you can get rid of heartburn and GERD naturally.