How I Manage Acid Reflux and Heartburn Naturally

One of my all-time most popular posts is How I Got Off Nexium. Not a week goes by that I don’t get new comments on this post or a personal email asking for advice or sharing a success story.

A lot of people want to know how I did it, and how long it took to start feeling better, and how I’m doing now, so I thought I’d write a follow-up post.

First, for those of you who may be wondering what’s the big deal, you should know that Nexium can create the exact problems it is supposed to prevent (namely, GERD — heartburn/reflux) along with a host of other possible side effects. It also prevents your body from absorbing important nutrients, leading to increased risk of osteoporosis and broken bones among other undesirable situations. You can read my first post for more information.

Furthermore, these types of medications are not intended for use more than 4-6 weeks, but doctors are prescribing them longterm. I had several different doctors tell me that Nexium is harmless and I would probably have to take it for life. Something about that just didn’t sit well with me, so I started doing some internet research (gotta love The Google!)

When I discovered the truth, I set out to get myself off this medication. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s doable. Our digestive systems were designed to work a certain way, but with our standard American diet and our stressful lifestyles, we are sabotaging ourselves. If you really want to understand the digestive system, I highly recommend reading the book Practical Paleo. She takes you through every part of the digestive system and explains how it should work, what goes wrong and why, and how to remedy the situation. Plus, the second half of the book is a fabulous cookbook with nutritious real food recipes that are delicious and easy to prepare. It’s a worthwhile investment.

So as for my update.

It is very hard to say when my symptoms started to disappear; I honestly don’t remember. It’s been so long that the details are getting fuzzy. In the summer of 2009, I discovered the real food movement and started drastically changing my eating habits. Soon after that I went off the Nexium. I know that it only took me a few weeks to wean off the medicine, and it wasn’t too horribly painful. You can read my original post to see how I did it. And if you want even more advice, I highly recommend reading through the comments on my original Nexium post. There is a wealth of information in there.

Of course, I must make the obligatory disclaimer and state for the record that we are not health professionals; we are just people sharing what has worked for us. Untreated GERD can result in Barrett’s Esophagus (a form of cancer) so please consult a doctor or naturopath and get help if you are trying to go off these meds — especially if you’ve been on them for a long time.

In the fall of 2010, I went gluten free, and it was like the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. The benefits of gluten free living are subtle (for me — others notice immediately if they ingest gluten) but when I get lazy and let some gluten creep in, I start to experience strange symptoms like nausea, dizziness and stomach aches. So gluten is definitely a no-no for me.

Even with all my diet changes, I am definitely not in 100% perfect digestive health. Maybe I make it sound that way sometimes, but that is misleading. I would put myself at about 90%.

I still have some reflux at times (usually when I overeat, but then some other times that I really can’t determine a trigger.) I manage these by drinking raw, organic apple cider vinegar (1 TBSP in 8 oz water — I actually have a little system whereby I mix the ACV with water in a 1:1 ratio and drink it in one gulp. Then I have a second glass of plain water in my other hand, which I chug immediately, to dilute the ACV that’s was previously ingested and to get the bad taste out of my mouth.) I have also heard that the tablets work just as well, so I might buy those next. The ACV will immediately relieve my reflux symptoms, and it’s really all I need to keep my system in check. I’d probably be better off taking it daily as a preventative, but I usually just take it when I’m having symptoms. Those nights (it usually seems to happen in the evening, after a big meal), I will go to bed in a sitting-up position so that my digestive system doesn’t get backed up.

And I do still get an occasional gastritis stomach ache, but these are rare. (Those are also what caused me to start taking Nexium in the first place; the reflux issues started when I tried to go off Nexium the first time. Ironic, yes?) The stomach aches tend to come in pairs. I will be fine for months, and then I’ll get a few bad stomach aches in a week. Often I don’t even know what causes them, but I assume that my digestive system is compromised from getting lax in my eating habits, causing me to be more sensitive than normal. This is my wake-up call to get back on track. I usually can’t pin-piont a trigger, but there are some things that definitely set me off.

I am pretty sure that artificial dyes bother my stomach because I’ve experience debilitating stomach aches after drinking certain colorful alcoholic drinks (the ones with red dye). So now I stick to wine, with an occasional homemade Mojito or Cosmo (forgive the shameless self promotion!)

Sometimes nuts upset my stomach; but sometimes they don’t.

Mexican food, and avocados will often do me in, but not every time I eat them. So of course, sometimes I take a chance because they taste so very good. I’m usually sorry I did.

A cup of milk (and nowadays, even a Starbucks latte) will immediately send my stomach into fits that last for a few hours. That is the one thing that is absolutely dependable, and I know to stay away.

I definitely should eat more vegetables. I’m sure I’d feel better overall if I incorporated more veggies into my diet. I don’t like raw vegetables except for salads, so that eliminates a lot of opportunities to get them in. It’s hard to get cooked veggies into your diet several times a day, but I try to incorporate them into my eggs at breakfast time and then of course into our dinners.

I know that I shouldn’t eat processed foods, even when they’re organic and gluten-free. They don’t offer any nutritional value or digestive help, but sometimes I like a treat. Since they don’t seem to directly upset my stomach, I justify the indulgence every once in a while.

I should be more consistent about taking digestive enzymes, bitters and probiotics.

I am not a very disciplined person, and I tend to not take care of myself until I start to feel poorly.

At the end of the day, I have a weak digestive system that will probably always need some coddling. Whether it is hereditary or due to the horrible eating habits I had for my early adult life or a combination of the two, I don’t know, but evidently this is my cross to bear. If I’m consistent with eating primarily real whole foods, keeping the starches and sugars to a minimum (and no gluten), taking my digestive enzymes and probiotics, and refraining from overeating, I feel great. But I when I get lax with any of that, the digestive issues creep back in. I just try to look at it as a wake-up call, a reminder to get back on track.

There is a diet called GAPS that is supposed to heal the gut. I know I should try it, but it is so restrictive that I have decided that I can live with things as they are now. If you’ve done everything you know to do and you’re still not feeling as good as you want to feel, definitely look into the GAPS Diet. At the very least, it can’t hurt.

So that’s where I am and how I got here!

I once felt hopeless and trapped, afraid that I’d be on medication forever and that my quality of life would always be subpar. If you are feeling that way today, I want you to know that there is a way out. Your mainstream primary care doctor may not tell you that there are other options to medication, so I continue to tell my story. I hope it helps or encourages someone today.