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These Natural Remedies for Heartburn Might Surprise You

A Closer Look at Natural Remedies For Heartburn and Why You Shouldn’t Overuse Conventional Medications

Key Takeaways:

  • Conventional heartburn treatments like antacids, H2 blockers, and PPIs are ok to use on occasion, but should not be overused, due to potential side effects.
  • Dietary and lifestyle changes are important interventions to help reduce heartburn.
  • Probiotics have been shown to reduce symptoms of GERD and enhance the effects of conventional treatments.
  • Breathing exercises that strengthen the diaphragm may assist in reducing symptoms of GERD.
  • Acupuncture has been shown to be more effective than medication in addressing heartburn symptoms.
  • Certain herbs and plant-based remedies like ginger supplements, prickly pear and olive extract, and licorice tea may all help reduce heartburn.
  • Alginates may be helpful under a doctor’s supervision.
  • Heartburn is common on occasion, but chronic heartburn can lead to GERD, which is a condition that can lead to damage to the esophagus if left untreated.

Heartburn isn’t just a harmless burning sensation in your chest. If left untreated for long enough, it can lead to long-term damage to your esophagus and further health issues. GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a result of chronic acid reflux, or the upward flow of stomach contents into the esophagus, which inflames the tissue and causes unpleasant and painful symptoms [1]. While many people experience heartburn without having GERD, GERD affects at least 20% of adults in the Western world [1].

If you’ve found your way to this post, it’s probably because you’re looking for natural alternatives to the standard heartburn treatments—antacids (like TUMS), histamine receptor antagonists (H2 blockers, like Pepcid), and proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs, like Prilosec). Over-the-counter medications might be effective in the short term, but they don’t always resolve symptoms of esophageal inflammation in every patient. Furthermore, PPIs, which block acid at the source, have potential side effects.

The functional approach for heartburn relief and the conventional approach include lifestyle and diet changes. However, the functional approach also adds probiotics, breathing exercises, acupuncture, and sometimes plant-based treatments to the protocol, intending to reduce the need for the medications above. Let’s take a look at what the research says about the functional approach and the best way to implement it if you suffer from heartburn, chronic indigestion, or GERD.

Is Your Heartburn Actually GERD?

GERD affects a large percentage of the American population, men slightly more so than women [2]. Corrosive stomach acid coming up into the esophagus causes heartburn, pain, and eventual damage. When stomach acid chronically reaches the cells of the esophagus, they become inflamed and eventually change shape to resemble cells of the intestine. With continued acid exposure, the mutated (precancerous) esophageal tissue can become malignant (cancerous). Long-term GERD can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous change of the esophagus cells [3].

Symptoms of GERD include [1]:

  • Heartburn (burning sensation in the chest and throat that usually occurs after eating or when reclining, lying down, or bending over)
  • Regurgitation, aka backwash (when stomach acid with or without food contents backs up into the esophagus and finds its way to the bottom of the throat, just above the windpipe, or into the mouth)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Painful swallowing
  • Belching
  • Upper belly or chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath (if acid gets into your airways through your windpipe)

According to the Cleveland Clinic, these symptoms are often worse when lying down, bending over, or eating a large or fatty meal [4]. Some of the lifestyle and diet adjustments that most healthcare providers recommend are based on these observations. 

Dietary and Lifestyle Changes

Admittedly, reducing heartburn triggers isn’t surprising advice. But it’s important that you understand what may be contributing to your symptoms so you can lessen those triggers and stop adding fuel to the fire. Without doing this, whichever treatment you choose is less likely to be effective. 

Minimizing or entirely avoiding heartburn triggers is key to reducing the effects of heartburn. That means avoiding trigger foods like [1]:

  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine
  • Citrus
  • Spicy food
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Alcohol

It also means limiting your serving size of fatty foods at each meal and avoiding overeating in general since it requires more stomach acid and time to digest larger, fattier meals.

You may also consider a more comprehensive elimination diet approach just in case there are trigger foods that bother you specifically. A low-nickel diet is another option that’s been shown to reduce symptoms of GERD and heartburn in a clinical trial [5].

Standard medical advice is to stop eating at least three hours before bedtime and prop up the head of your bed so that gravity can assist you in keeping foods and acids down while you sleep. You don’t need to invest in an expensive bed to do this; you can simply purchase a wedge or add more pillows if that’s comfortable for you. You’ll want to play with the angle of elevation here; anywhere between 8–31 inches could help keep your food down while you sleep [6]. The goal is to allow comfortable and quality sleep (as good sleep is another great way to prevent  GERD), so find your sweet spot in that range.

Weight loss, specifically middle body weight, is also often part of the heartburn prescription. This advice is less about reducing general obesity and more about gravity—extra weight in the middle puts pressure on your stomach, which can lead to more backward flow of your stomach contents. Avoid tight clothing around the waist for this same reason, regardless of your size.

Reducing middle body fat is also a key piece of all general wellness advice due to the active nature of that type of fat—visceral fat. Visceral fat increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes.

While these diet and behavioral adjustments are helpful, they’re only part of the puzzle and don’t resolve the issue for everyone. Taking proactive steps beyond prevention may be needed, especially if you’ve gone a long time with untreated heartburn or GERD and have already begun to suffer some physical damage to your esophageal lining. That’s when it’s time to support your digestive tract with functional interventions.

Using Probiotics to Assist in Treating GERD

If you thought that probiotics were only helpful for lower digestive health, think again. Probiotics have been shown not only to aid upper digestion on their own but may augment conventional heartburn treatments. A systematic review of 13 studies found that probiotics reduced the frequency and severity of GERD symptoms in adults, a hallmark of which, as we discussed above, is heartburn [7].

Another small study showed promising findings that people taking PPIs for GERD, heartburn, or peptic ulcers experienced greater benefits when a probiotic was added to the protocol [8]. While more research is needed to confirm these early findings, this is a big deal. Not only might probiotics improve the efficacy of a pharmaceutical, but they also may help reduce the negative side effects of taking that pharmaceutical.

Recent research points to evidence that PPIs disrupt and damage the gut microbiota, potentially setting up GERD patients to be more susceptible to things like SIBO or Clostridium difficile 

[8, 9, 10]. So, taking a probiotic could help maintain healthy gut bacteria and reduce the potential side effects of PPI drugs.

PPI drugs may also increase the risk of liver cirrhosis [9]. The gut microbiome plays a role in virtually every aspect of health, including liver function, and there does seem to be a connection between probiotic supplementation and improved liver function in cirrhotic patients [11]. While probiotics are by no means an approved treatment for such a serious illness, it seems it’s worth taking a probiotic alongside a PPI if you intend on continuing PPI use. 

As an added benefit, we know that gut health and mental health are tied together through the gut-brain axis. If you suffer from digestive issues, you’ve likely noticed that they get worse with stress and anxiety. Probiotics can help with that, too. By zooming out from the very specific issue of heartburn or GERD to your broader health and wellness, you might find that a number of your health challenges are connected. By addressing your overall gut health through gut-supportive foods and probiotics, you’ll likely begin to see some significant changes.

Breathing Exercises to Improve GERD

This one might surprise you, but if you think about it mechanistically, it makes sense. Breathing exercises affect the diaphragm, and the diaphragm wraps around your lower esophageal sphincter at the hiatus. By doing exercises to strengthen your diaphragm, you may be helping keep the contents of your stomach where they belong and prevent reflux, especially if your GERD is mild [12, 13].

Importantly, you should not address GERD using breathing exercises if you have a hiatal hernia, as it could create more issues with your hernia.

The most effective form of breathing exercises to address heartburn symptoms hasn’t been established yet—more research is needed here. However, some evidence suggests that diaphragmatic breathwork training was the most effective. It improved symptoms, reduced the need for medication, and improved the quality of life for GERD patients, mostly with mild cases [13].

Acupuncture to Reduce Symptoms of Acid Reflux

A meta-analysis of 12 randomized controlled trials examined the use of acupuncture for treating GERD. The findings were remarkably surprising. Of the three groups:

  • Medication only
  • Medication and acupuncture
  • Acupuncture only

Those who received only acupuncture fared best. They were 30% less likely to have recurring symptoms than those who only took medication and 15% less likely than those both taking medication and receiving acupuncture [14]. While the total number of people in all 12 studies only totaled 1,235, these findings are really promising. Both manual acupuncture and electroacupuncture were tested, and they both outperformed the medication.

Even better, barring slight potential for irritation at a needle site, there are no side effects to receiving acupuncture. This treatment is an excellent option for those suffering from frequent heartburn, especially if they’re not responding well to PPIs or other conventional interventions.

Plant-based and Herbal Remedies

If you’re open to experimenting with supplements and herbs, a few may be worth trying out. A recent study found that a specific protocol including the following had statistically significant benefits for GERD [15]:

  • Probiotic yogurt
  • Ginger supplements
  • Psyllium husk
  • Prickly pear and olive leaf extract
  • A supplement containing melatonin, amino acids, and B vitamins

Because there aren’t many studies on these natural remedies, there isn’t a clear guideline for the best dose. You can experiment independently to find what works for you or work with your healthcare provider to determine a plan that meets your needs. 

If this seems too complicated, you might be curious about home remedies. Some are better than others. Let’s go through a few of them.

Ginger tea, licorice tea, and chamomile tea can all be helpful in soothing heartburn naturally [15, 16]. Peppermint tea is a common remedy for upset stomach, but it’s best to avoid it for GERD, as it can worsen heartburn [17].

An herbal supplement called Plectranthus barbatus (forskolin or blue spur flower, a member of the mint family) has been shown to be effective as another natural alternative to over-the-counter antacids [17]. 

Importantly, you should clear the use of this one with your doctor, as it’s contraindicated for kidney disease and low blood pressure medications like blood thinners. It’s also worth noting that this type of mint is different from peppermint, and peppermint is not a good substitute if you can’t find this one.

You may have also heard that taking a small amount (¼ tsp) of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in a few ounces of water can reduce heartburn. It can, which is why antacids like TUMS that contain sodium bicarbonate work. BUT—this should not be your go-to or everyday remedy. Taking too many antacids can lead to sodium bicarbonate toxicity. This can cause major negative effects on your heart, breathing, and muscle functions [18].

An intervention that straddles the functional and conventional approach is using an alginate like Gaviscon. This is an over-the-counter medication that’s considered safer than the other conventional treatments for heartburn [19]. Alginates (derived from brown seaweed) work by creating a physical barrier to displace the acid in the stomach. Gastric acid combined with the alginate creates a gelatinous “raft” at the top of the stomach, keeping the acid at bay [19]. Seek medical advice before taking this one, as it can come with side effects like constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and mild stomach cramps.

Natural Remedies for Heartburn

While the occasional use of over-the-counter heartburn medication is relatively harmless, chronic use can be a problem. Even more importantly, chronic heartburn itself is a health concern that needs to be addressed. Chronic exposure to acid in the esophagus can lead to cell damage and an increased risk of esophageal cancer, so taking measures to address GERD is critical to your overall health and wellness [20].

Natural remedies, specifically daily probiotics, acupuncture, breathing exercises, and herbal remedies, are safer and have fewer potential side effects than conventional antacids, H2 blockers, and PPIs. Alginates are used in conventional and functional approaches but should be taken under medical supervision.

If you suspect you have GERD or experience chronic indigestion, we’d love to help you get on the right track. Reach out to our clinic to set up a consultation.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

➕ References
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  2. Chhabra P, Ingole N. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): highlighting diagnosis, treatment, and lifestyle changes. Cureus. 2022 Aug 29;14(8):e28563. DOI: 10.7759/cureus.28563. PMID: 36185857. PMCID: PMC9517688.
  3. Khieu M, Mukherjee S. Barrett Esophagus. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021. PMID: 28613697.
  4. Acid Reflux & GERD: Symptoms, What It Is, Causes, Treatment [Internet]. [cited 2023 Nov 29]. Available from:
  5. Yousaf A, Hagen R, Mitchell M, Ghareeb E, Fang W, Correa R, et al. The effect of a low-nickel diet and nickel sensitization on gastroesophageal reflux disease: A pilot study. Indian J Gastroenterol. 2021 Apr;40(2):137–43. DOI: 10.1007/s12664-020-01090-3. PMID: 33219986. PMCID: PMC8137722.
  6. Albarqouni L, Moynihan R, Clark J, Scott AM, Duggan A, Del Mar C. Head of bed elevation to relieve gastroesophageal reflux symptoms: a systematic review. BMC Fam Pract. 2021 Jan 19;22(1):24. DOI: 10.1186/s12875-021-01369-0. PMID: 33468060. PMCID: PMC7816499.
  7. Cheng J, Ouwehand AC. Gastroesophageal reflux disease and probiotics: A systematic review. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 2;12(1). DOI: 10.3390/nu12010132. PMID: 31906573. PMCID: PMC7019778.
  8. Singh G, Haileselassie Y, Briscoe L, Bai L, Patel A, Sanjines E, et al. The effect of gastric acid suppression on probiotic colonization in a double blinded randomized clinical trial. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2022 Feb;47:70–7. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2021.11.005. PMID: 35063245.
  9. Zhang J, Zhang C, Zhang Q, Yu L, Chen W, Xue Y, et al. Meta-analysis of the effects of proton pump inhibitors on the human gut microbiota. BMC Microbiol. 2023 Jun 19;23(1):171. DOI: 10.1186/s12866-023-02895-w. PMID: 37337143. PMCID: PMC10278323.
  10. Kiecka A, Szczepanik M. Proton pump inhibitor-induced gut dysbiosis and immunomodulation: current knowledge and potential restoration by probiotics. Pharmacol Rep. 2023 Aug;75(4):791–804. DOI: 10.1007/s43440-023-00489-x. PMID: 37142877. PMCID: PMC10159235.
  11. Is There a Role for Probiotics in Liver Disease? [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 12]. Available from:
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  14. Zhu J, Guo Y, Liu S, Su X, Li Y, Yang Y, et al. Acupuncture for the treatment of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acupunct Med. 2017 Oct;35(5):316–23. DOI: 10.1136/acupmed-2016-011205. PMID: 28689187.
  15. Martin Z, Spry G, Hoult J, Maimone IR, Tang X, Crichton M, et al. What is the efficacy of dietary, nutraceutical, and probiotic interventions for the management of gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms? A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Clin Nutr ESPEN. 2022 Dec;52:340–52. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2022.09.015. PMID: 36513474.
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  17. Khanna R, MacDonald JK, Levesque BG. Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2014 Jul;48(6):505–12. DOI: 10.1097/MCG.0b013e3182a88357. PMID: 24100754.
  18. Al-Abri SA, Olson KR. Baking soda can settle the stomach but upset the heart: case files of the Medical Toxicology Fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. J Med Toxicol. 2013 Sep;9(3):255–8. DOI: 10.1007/s13181-013-0300-4. PMID: 23591957. PMCID: PMC3770998.
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