If you’re struggling with a constant burning sensation from heartburn or you’ve been diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD) this is the article for you. The burning sensation can become quite debilitating and often leads to sleep loss, stress, and chronic pain. The medications often used for heartburn (Proton Pump Inhibitors) can lead to severe side effects. In this article, I will review three easy strategies to help you get rid of heartburn without medication. 

In general, heartburn and GERD happen because there isn’t enough stomach acid and too many bad bacteria in our stomach and intestines. As we age we actually get a reduction in acid production. As a result this increases our risk for heartburn. So, to make it better, we need to bring back enough stomach acid and get rid of those bad bacteria. That’s how we can treat it successfully. This is the guiding principle that will help you restore your stomach health and keep that acid in its place.

You can make things better by following these three easy steps:

  1. Reduce triggers that nurture bad bacteria and low stomach acid.
  2. Add stomach acid and enzyme supplements with bitter herbs to support healthy digestion.
  3. Bring back the good bacteria and heal your gut lining.

Step 1: Reduce triggers that nurture bad bacteria and low stomach acid.

Reduce your excessive carbohydrate intake

Eating a lot of carbohydrates can make too many bad bacteria like H.pylori grow in our stomach. Often these bacteria will produce chemicals that reduce your stomach acid for their own survival. This makes heartburn worse. But if we eat fewer carbs, it can help reduce heartburn. Studies have shown that when people with heartburn ate a diet low in carbs, their symptoms got much better.

But remember, you don’t need to eat very few carbs forever. Once your stomach feels better, you can eat a diet with a moderate amount of carbs to keep heartburn away.

There are other diets, like the specific carbohydrate diet and the low-FODMAP diet, that might also help with heartburn. These diets focus on the type of carbs you eat. Both approaches focus on  short-chain carbs which are better absorbed than long-chain ones. In short, that means you can eat fruits and some non-starchy veggies (celery root, winter squash, rutabaga, turnips… etc), but you should reduce/avoid grains, beans, and starchy veggies (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant… etc).

Reduce or elinimate artificial sweeteners

Also, be careful not to eat processed low-carb foods from the store. They may contain artificial sweeteners that also can promote bad bacteria and as a consequence heartburn. Overall, it’s better to follow a Paleo-style diet with whole foods as much as possible.

Use caution with prebiotic fiber or starches

If you attempt to start to grow probiotics with prebiotic fibers during this step there is a chance you will make your heartburn worse. Prebiotics, also known as fructo-oligosaccharides, are really helpful at nourishing healthy gut bacteria but they also feed the bad bacteria you don’t want. Use caution with any prebiotics during this step.

Step 2: Add stomach acid and enzyme supplements with bitter herbs to support healthy digestion.

HCl with pepsin supplements

Supplementing with betaine HCl and pepsin4 replaces the low stomach acid that you need for digestion. As a result, this helps your body absorb protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and iron, which are all vital nutrients for you. Also, the strong stomach acid they create can kill harmful bacteria which contribute to the core of heartburn and GERD. So, taking this as a supplement during step two will help your digestion work better.

It is best to work with a practitioner when you are attempting to increase your stomach acid. For example, taking HCl with pepsin and some medications (like steroids or over the counter pain medications) can increase your risk of developing or  exacerbating an ulcer. Also, identifying the amount of acid you need to return to normal can be a tricky task.

Food enzymes supplements

Your body has special proteins called digestive enzymes, which are like little workers that break down the food you. The digestion process starts in your mouth when your saliva begins to break down the food. As the food travels through your stomach, small intestine, and pancreas, more enzymes are released and become active. The pancreas is like the boss of these enzymes and produces the most important ones that break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. So, enzymes are very important to improve digestion and reduce heartburn. Luckily you can actually supplement with food enzymes to increase this process and relieve digestive discomfort.

Bitters herbal formulas

Bitters work by making your taste buds more active, and when that happens, your mouth produces extra saliva (you know, that stuff in your mouth). Saliva is the very beginning for digestion along with chewing because it helps break down starches and fats from the food you eat. So, bitters are like a friendly nudge to your digestive system to get it going! Theoretically, bitters also stimulate your digestive system to move. This helps to keep your digestive system clean and healthy.

Use caution again here when introducing bitters. They can affect the rate at which you absorb or process medications and have contraindications. When you are getting started it is important to work with a qualified practitioner who is familiar with the use of bitters for digestive health.

Step 3: Bring back the good bacteria and heal your gut lining

Probiotic foods for gut health

Since having an overabundance of bad bacteria is a major part of heartburn, growing healthy bacteria (probiotics) is a critical step. Probiotics are special helpful bacteria living in your gut. Our entire digestive system is home to these beneficial microbes and they’re vital for health. This includes your immune system and how well you digest food. When you’re lacking in probiotics, it can lead to issues like gas, bloating, skin problems, acid reflux, and can contribute to some autoimmune diseases.

In the past, people got lots of probiotics from eating fresh, healthy foods and fermenting them to keep them preserved. But today, our modern farming practices and fast food diets have made our food less rich in probiotics. What’s worse, some foods now even have antibiotics pesticides in them, and these can harm the good bacteria in our bodies. So, it’s important to make sure you get enough of these beneficial little microbes.

Probiotic rich foods include:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Pickles
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Miso
  • Natto

Bone Broth and DGL for gut mucosal health

Recovering from heartburn and GERD also involves repairing a healthy gut mucosal lining, which is often damaged by chronic stress, bacterial overgrowth, and certain medications like steroids, NSAIDs, and aspirin. The stomach’s protective lining, called the mucosal lining, shields it from its own acid. When this lining gets damaged, it can lead to irritation, pain, and even ulcers.

One way to restore a healthy stomach lining is by consuming homemade bone broth soups. These soups are packed with collagen and gelatin, which have shown benefits for people with ulcers. They also contain proline, an amino acid that helps create collagen. Additionally, bone broth provides glutamine, a crucial energy source for gut cells, which research in animals suggests can improve the gut lining. While getting nutrients from food is generally preferred, supplements can sometimes be necessary, especially for short periods. 

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is a supplement that has been effective in treating gastric and duodenal ulcers. DGL works by increasing the production of compounds called prostaglandins, which aid in mucus production, protect cell membranes, and encourage new cell growth—all crucial for maintaining a healthy gut lining. It’s important to note that both chronic stress and the use of NSAIDs can reduce prostaglandin production, so managing stress and minimizing NSAID use is essential for anyone dealing with digestive problems, including GERD.


The common medical approach to managing heartburn and GERD involves using drugs that reduce stomach acid for an extended period. Unfortunately, these medications don’t tackle the root causes of these issues and can even exacerbate them. Consequently, people who start taking these antacid drugs often find themselves relying on them for the rest of their lives.

This presents a significant problem because acid-reducing drugs can lead to issues like bacterial overgrowth, weakened immunity, reduced absorption of vital nutrients, and a higher risk of developing digestive problems like IBS, along with potential connections to cancer. Interestingly, when these drugs were initially introduced, it was recommended not to use them for more than six weeks. However, it’s now quite common to encounter individuals who have been on these drugs for decades, not just weeks. 

What’s even more concerning is that heartburn and GERD can often be prevented and treated through straightforward dietary and lifestyle changes. Therefore, it’s essential for individuals to seek the truth and advocate for their own health, and I hope this series of articles has helped you in that pursuit.

About the author

Dr. Mark VanOtterloo has been an acupuncturist since 2012 working with patients with chronic pain / disease. He has helped numerous patients with chronic digestive issues both to identify key tests in functional medicine to help guide and direct the treatment for complex cases. If you have chronic digestive issues you can schedule an appointment with Dr. Mark VanOtterloo below.

Do You Want More Help With Your Chronic Heartburn?

Step 1 — schedule an appointment: Concerned about the costs? Visit this page to find out more about the cost of treatments.

Step 2 — get a plan: Not all heartburn is the same. We develop an individulal plan just for you at your initial appoinment.

Step 3 — follow the plan: Easier said than done. Every tried to diet? Not so easy right? We’ve got tons of experience helping patients while providing amazing treatments.

Curious about me? Maybe we haven’t met yet. You can learn more about Dr. Mark VanOtterloo DAOM by using the link provided. Thanks for considering us as your partner in health!

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