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HOLISTIC HEALTH - May 2017 - Kansas City

Natural Approaches to Heartburn and Reflux 

By Nancy Russell, M.D.


An estimated 30% of Americans, about 100 million of us have regular bouts of heartburn, which is also called acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). 

Americans spend over $14 billion a year on heartburn drugs to prevent and stop the pain. Integrative and functional healthcare practitioners strive to get to the root of the problem, not just treat symptoms. 


In heartburn, the food-dissolving HCL, hydrochloric acid of the stomach refluxes up through the esophageal sphincter, burning the vulnerable lining of the esophagus and throat. The body produces stomach acid for a reason: to start the process of digesting your food. Turning off the stomach acid with proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec, Nexium, Protonix, Aciphex, etc can decrease the pain of heartburn as can less potent drugs such as Pepcid, Zantac and Tums. But these drugs don’t treat the cause of heartburn, which is poor digestion. 


The following are recommended for heartburn and other forms of digestive issues, such as stomachache, ulcers and gastritis. 


  1. Take digestive enzymes as one of the primary causes of indigestion in the United States is lack of enzymes in our food, which have been removed during processing. Nutritional supplements are available containing plant based enzymes, taken with each meal, can counter indigestion and improve health and well-being. If the plant enzymes cause any irritation, start with zinc carnosine or DGL licorice and mastic gum remedies until symptoms are improved, usually in a month or 2 and then start taking the digestive enzymes. 

  2. While eating, sip warm liquid rather than cold. Cold drinks slow and stop digestion. Drink warm liquids such as tea or warm water with a squirt of lemon. Save the cold drinks for in between meals. 

  3. Avoid coffee, colas, alcohol, aspirin, ibuprophen, naproxen as all of them can hurt your stomach. After your indigestion and reflux are resolved, limited amounts may be able to be consumed. Also avoid foods and substances that cause symptoms for you.

  4. Check for too little stomach acid as HCL stomach acid decreases with aging. Without enough acid, food doesn’t digest, sits in the stomach, sloshing around and the refluxing into your esophagus, causing heartburn and indigestion. Too little acid can actually cause the same symptoms as too much acid. Apple cider vinegar taken before meals, diluted with warm water or in a salad dressing can help with digestion if you have too little acid. If the apple cider vinegar causes increased symptoms, too much acid is more likely the culprit. 

  5. Get tested for and treat H. pylori. Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria that can infect the stomach, a common cause of stomach upset and ulcers. There are prescription treatments with PPI’s and antibiotics or natural approaches with DGL licorice and mastic gum until the stomach calms down and then use limonene oil. 

  6. Stop prescription PPI’s. Continue to take your PPI’s or other antacid medication until symptoms subside then gradually taper off of them over 2-3 months. You can continue to take zinc carnosine or DGL licorice and mastic gum long term as needed. 

  7. Tums or other products that contain plain calcium should be avoided. For instance, using plain calcium without Vitamin D and magnesium for osteoporosis has been shown to increase heart attacks risk by 31% as the calcium can deposit in the arteries to the heart and other arteries. 


More Information can be found in Dr Jacob Teitelbaum M.D.’s book, “Real Cause, Real Cure” he discusses natural approaches to many different health problems.


The bottom line is to break your addiction from PPI’s and antacids and allow your stomach to produce the acid you need for proper digestion. Occasionally betaine HCL or hydrochloric acid is needed in addition to digestive enzymes for optimal results. Consult an Integrative or Functional Medicine provider for more specific, individualized treatment. 

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Nancy Russell, M.D. has been a holistic Internal Medicine physician in the Kansas City northland for over 30 years at 5140 N. Antioch Road in Kansas City, MO.


Her phone number is 816-453-5545 and website is where you can get more information. Dr. Russell is board certified in holistic medicine and is a member of the American Holistic Medical Association and a prior board member.

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