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December 20, 2022
11 Ways to Relieve GERD (Acid Reflux) Without Medication
Living with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can feel like an endless series of frustrations. When something as simple as eating or laying down can cause extreme discomfort, it’s hard not to feel distracted by it. And as you may have experienced firsthand, sometimes GERD medication can create new issues in the process of helping you temporarily feel better.
But instead of tackling this core problem, common GERD medications only focus on temporarily relieving symptoms by reducing stomach acid. The catch is that, in addition to the fact that the medications aren’t treating the real root of GERD, they are also depriving your body of stomach acid that your system needs—and that can be harmful in the long run. These medications can be helpful in a pinch, but they are risky for long-term use (3).
That said, there are several natural solutions you can try in place of these medications. If you’re taking antacids, H2 receptor blockers (like Pepcid AC), or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and want to get off medication, here are some natural options to try…
11 Ways to Relieve GERD Naturally
When shifting from medications to natural treatments for GERD, it can be helpful to focus your efforts on four specific steps: removing common GERD triggers, increasing your stomach acid, managing your gut bacteria, and healing the lining of your gut. Here’s how to tackle each category.
Eliminating GERD Triggers
1. Avoid Drinking Beverages During Your Meals
Drinking beverages like water, coffee, tea, and soda in the middle of your meal can create digestive issues, slow nutrient absorption, and—you guessed it!—cause heartburn (4). While it’s important to stay hydrated, make a point to drink water separately from your meals. Try to especially avoid taking large gulps of beverage in between bites.
2. Chew Your Food
Yes, there’s a right and wrong way to chew your food! Chewing more thoroughly can stimulate your digestive enzymes and impact how your body digests your food. Take smaller bites and chew with care. An added bonus? You’ll get to savor your meals more!
3. Cut Out Tomatoes and Citrus
Remove tomatoes and citrus fruits from your diet. (Or, if you really love them, significantly decrease your intake.) Acidic fruits can increase GERD symptoms.
4. Avoid NSAIDs
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can not only increase GERD symptoms, but they can also cause the condition (5). The most well-known NSAIDs include aspirin (like Bayer and Excedrin), ibuprofen (like Advil, Motrin, and Midol), and naproxen (like Aleve and Naprosyn). There is also a wide range of prescription-strength NSAIDs on the market. If you’re unsure whether one of your medications is an NSAID, or if you take an NSAID daily, talk to your healthcare provider before stopping.
Increasing Your Stomach Acid
Once you’ve eliminated triggers to hopefully curb your symptoms, you’ll want to focus on naturally increasing your stomach acid. Despite the common belief that high levels of stomach acid can cause heartburn, the reality is that low stomach acid levels can lead to heartburn and poor nutrient absorption (6, 7).
5. Take an HCL Supplement
A Betaine HCL (hydrochloride) with Pepsin supplement can help increase your stomach acid, and it’s the first line of defense when it comes to healing GERD naturally. That said, do not take HCL if you are also taking an anti-inflammatory medication, including ibuprofen or aspirin. Combining them could increase the risk of gastric bleeding or an ulcer, and could damage your GI lining (8). Double-check with your healthcare provider before taking a supplement if you have any other concerns.
6. Add Bitter Herbs to Your Routine
Bitter herbs have been found to increase the HCL flow in your body, which can help ease and prevent heartburn (9, 10, 11). Consider taking Iberogast, a blend of bitter herbs that includes licorice root and peppermint. Iberogast can help reduce heartburn, stomach pain, and indigestion symptoms (12). In fact, according to research, Iberogast may work just as well as an over-the-counter antacid to manage heartburn pain—without causing that stomach acid “rebound” that makes over-the-counter heartburn medication difficult to quit using (13).
Other bitter herbs that may help include:
- Barberry bark
- Gentian root
- Milk thistle
- Globe artichoke
- Goldenseal root
- Yellow dock
Manage Bacterial Overgrowth in the Gut
Once you have taken steps to increase your stomach acid, it’s time to address any bacterial damage that prolonged low stomach acid may have caused. Low stomach acid can cause an increase of bacteria in the gut, which can impact nutrient absorption and cause negative digestive symptoms (14).
Here are a few steps that can help tackle bacterial overgrowth…
7. Find Out If You Have SIBO—and Treat it
Patients with GERD or low stomach acid are more likely to have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, also called SIBO (15). This condition is characterized by an abnormal rise in bacteria in the small intestine, especially types of bacteria that don’t normally hang out in that part of your digestive tract.
SIBO can be tough to treat. Sometimes, antibiotics do the trick, but some people experience a recurrence a few months later (16). If this happens to you, some possible additional solutions could include a low-FODMAP diet (more on that below), herbal therapy, or prokinetic agents (a type of medication that helps control acid reflux) (17, 18).
8. Supplement with Probiotics
Probiotics—a type of good bacteria—help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria: They can suppress excess bacteria that don’t belong in the gut while offering additional good bacteria that your body wants. NativePath Probiotics, which include a custom blend of ten different strains of good bacteria, are a good option to support this balance.
9. Be Aware of H. pylori and Treat It If Needed
H. pylori is a type of bacteria that can live in the digestive tract and attack your stomach lining. It’s incredibly common, affecting around 44% of the global population (19). H. pylori is harmless for many people, but for others, it may cause ulcers. The condition has also been associated with some cases of gastric cancer (20).
Research has also indicated that there may be an association between H. pylori and GERD, with many people experiencing an improvement in GERD symptoms after their H. pylori is treated (21, 22). H. pylori is usually treated with two antibiotics at once, and taking a probiotic at the same time can make the treatment more effective (23). Some cases of H. pylori are resistant to antibiotics, and in those cases, mastic gum (a type of resin that has aided digestion for centuries) can help (24).
10. Try a Low-Carb Diet
A Low-FODMAP diet or a Low Fermentation Potential diet could help reduce the level of bacteria in your gut (25). Both are low-carb diets, and if you have low stomach acid, you’ve likely been having a hard time fully digesting the carbs you eat. By temporarily reducing your carb intake, you can reduce GERD symptoms (26).
This will give your stomach acid a chance to increase and your gut bacteria a chance to decrease, as a large percentage of the carbs we eat are absorbed as food for our gut bacteria (27). Once your gut is back on track, you can start slowly reintroducing carbs (28). While you’re limiting carbs, aim to eat whole, natural foods instead of processed foods that advertise themselves as low-carb.
Heal Your Gut Lining
After all these steps, your gut may still be a bit out of sorts from the effects of stress, medication, or other issues. Here’s what to do.
11. Take Collagen
If your gut lining is damaged, you might still be experiencing GERD symptoms. Taking a collagen supplement daily can help heal this damage (29). Research has found that collagen can help protect the intestinal lining from breaking down, and may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut (30, 31). NativePath Collagen Peptides are an easy, natural way to heal your gut lining. Just mix a scoop or two into your coffee, tea, soup, or even baking recipe daily!
The Bottom Line
GERD medications can be helpful in the short term, but they are a risky option for long-term use. If you’re looking for a healthy alternative, you can manage GERD naturally by breaking the process into steps: Remove possible triggers, replenish your stomach acid, manage bacterial overgrowth in the gut with the help of probiotics, and finally, begin healing your gut lining with the help of collagen peptides. The relief is worth every step.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.