Humans have suffered from heartburn for all of history. Hippocrates warned in 400 BC that eating cheese after a full meal could cause indigestion, especially if accompanied by wine.380 Centuries ago, doctors called it dyspepsia, from Greek words meaning difficult to digest. These days, drug companies stress an even scarier name: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Whatever you call it, heartburn is unpleasant. It can ruin the memory of a great dining experience. And trying to sleep with a burning sensation in the middle of your chest can be difficult at best and impossible at worst. Reflux can also lead to more serious conditions. The longer irritating stomach contents stay in contact with the delicate tissue of the esophagus, the more damage they do. Repeated exposure to this noxious nastiness can cause scarring, stricture, and abnormal cell growth. Most worrisome of all is the risk of esophageal cancer.

Let’s be perfectly clear. Anyone who experiences prolonged bouts of heartburn must be seen by a competent gastroenterologist for a thorough workup. This is not a do-it-yourself project!

The underlying cause of GERD is more mysterious than you would think. Commercials for antacids or powerful prescription reflux drugs often blame heartburn on excess stomach acid, as if Mother Nature made a giant mistake. But we’re supposed to have acid in our stomachs. Starting some 350 million years ago, virtually all animal species evolved sophisticated systems for creating strong stomach acid.381 Halibut make hydrochloric acid in their stomachs. So do dogs, cats, cows, birds, frogs, snakes, and salamanders. Just because drug companies have figured out ways to shut down acid production with medications such as omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and esomeprazole (Nexium) does not mean this is the only way to combat heartburn.

Stomach acid is essential for digesting food and facilitating the absorption of certain nutrients. The acid environment in the stomach also creates a barrier against infection. We swallow germs every day from our food and other sources. But it is hard for bacteria to survive in the stomach if there is a hostile acidic environment. Trying to prevent the creation of stomach acid is like fighting back the tide. We’re not at all certain that long-term acid suppression is always such a good idea.

Persistent symptoms of pain, burning, or pressure behind the breastbone should be investigated by a doctor to rule out a serious condition. For an occasional attack of indigestion, however, there are lots of things you need to consider. Before pulling out the heavy artillery of acid-suppressing drugs, there are many options to contemplate. Here is a quick snapshot:

  • Avoid foods or drugs that might make the lower esophageal sphincter lazy and let gastric juice creep back into the esophagus. There are few good studies, but some possible culprits include chocolate, carbonated beverages, smoking, diazepam, and progesterone.
  • Cut back on carbs. Although the data are preliminary, there is some suggestion that the typical high-carbohydrate American diet may be contributing to reflux.
  • Keep your eyes on itopride. This prescription drug works differently than acid-suppressing drugs to relieve indigestion and heartburn. Its success in Japan and India and a fascinating report in the New England Journal of Medicine (February 23, 2006) have us looking forward to FDA approval.
  • Saliva is the body’s natural buffering agent and fire extinguisher for heartburn. Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can help relieve symptoms.
  • Chamomile or ginger tea also can wash acid out of the esophagus and back into the stomach where it belongs. These traditional remedies also may help calm an upset stomach.
  • Other herbal products that can be helpful include fennel seed (in capsules or tea) or flaxseed tea.
  • Home remedies such as sipping diluted apple cider vinegar or even swallowing yellow mustard may help. Each person is different, though, so trial and error will be the only way to find out if a home remedy will work for you.
  • Baking soda remains a time-honored solution for occasional heartburn. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of powder in 4 ounces of water. For those on sodium-restricted diets because of congestive heart failure or high blood pressure, this is not an option.
  • If you need an antacid, calcium carbonate remains one of the cheapest and most effective in the pharmacy. Tums Ultra contains 1,000 milligrams of calcium carbonate and is a cost-effective option.
  • In our opinion, a sensible first choice for an OTC acid-suppressing drug is Pepcid Complete. It combines the immediate action of antacids (calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide) with the longer-acting H2 antagonist famotidine. Short-term use should be safe.
  • If you feel you must take a powerful acid-suppressing PPI, we would opt for Prilosec OTC. If you have great insurance coverage, you might save money if your doctor prescribes generic omeprazole instead. We think a little vitamin insurance is appropriate whenever acid-suppressing drugs are taken for any length of time (vitamin B12, vitamin C, and vitamin E).

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  1. Vivian

    Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read ahyintng like this before. So nice to find any person with some unique thoughts on this subject. realy thanks for starting this up. this web site is something that is wanted on the net, someone with just a little originality. helpful job for bringing one thing new to the internet!

  2. Marcus M.

    I was sure that I was having a heart attack the pain in the left pectorial was intense. A visit to the emergency room resultd in a diagnoses of
    GERD. I have changed my diet and the Gerd is on its way out of my life.

  3. ss

    please supply recipe for this remedy

  4. PZS

    I have an unscientific, empirical study of one subject–me. And it was an accident. I went to my doctor and complained of some sleeping problems and, after some tests, he suggested melatonin to help me sleep more deeply and stay asleep longer during the night. I started taking it and it did exactly that. What I ALSO realized was that I didn’t have heartburn anymore. Not the intention for taking the melatonin at all–hadn’t even heard of that possibility at that point–but that was the unexpected side effect.
    Prior to that I had seen myself starting to go down the path my dad had, frequently taking a Rolaid or Mylanta or some such at bedtime, even getting up during the night on occasion to do so. Bothered by “typical” (I thought) heartburn. I just chalked it up–like father, like son (then in my late 40s). After a while of concentrating on my sleep situation it dawned on me that I hadn’t taken any antacids lately–at all. And I had not changed my diet or lifestyle in any way. It’s been well over a year now (closer to one and a half) and that is still the case. Never take a Rolaid or anything and never even think about doing so.
    I’ve been taking just the standard dosage my doctor recommended of 3mg melatonin every night when I go to bed. Very interesting and definitely did not see that coming. As side effects go, I’ll take it! Keep in mind I was NOT being treated for GERD or any such disorder, so my prior digestive situation may have just been “normal” annoying acid reflux, indigestion, heartburn… whatever you want to call it. But, yeah, I’ve experienced the “melatonin effect” and I’m really curious about it.

  5. louis w.

    This is my newly discovered tip to ameliorate heartburn. Suffered off and on for forty years and increasingly so lately, especially when going to bed, and even with a head-end raised bed. Doctor prescribed Prilosec and it works, but I decided to discontinue after hearing of the possible side effects. Then I decreased my evening meal portions and took an antacid as Tums before bedtime. That helped.
    By chance, I had half Cream cheese covered bagel before bed time. No heartburn! Did again next night. Same results. Concluding that the bagel wasn’t the angel, I stared on a regimen of cream cheese thirty minutes before bedtime each night. Heartburn is gone, unless I overeat at the evening meal. I eat one once, i.e., one eighth of a an eight once packet of Philadelphia or equivalent cream cheese.

  6. RES

    I was put on a PPI—Prevacid & have read a lot of Bad Press about using PPIs for long periods of time. SOMEONE mentioned something about taking Apple Cider vinegar each morning instead of taking those drugs……but I can’t remember EXACTLY how much vinegar & if you mix it with something.
    I tried going OFF Prevacid for two days & had terrible vomiting….so am back on the drug but would really like to know about the “vinegar cure”

  7. Debi K

    For years I suffered heart burn, test showed a hiatal hernia and GERD, Dr put me on Prilosec for 5 years, Then I started reading about calcium loss if on these type of Drugs too long a. I tried to get off Prilosec but HB would return. I went to a holistic Dr who had me stop eating white refined bread products, like store cookies, english muffins, etc, put me on Ezekiel Bread.
    I’ve been off these drugs 4 years now. Only get occasional HB if overeat tomatoes or a English muffin, then I take a TUM. I still go to a western Dr, but more and more my Holistic Chiropractor Dr comes thru for me. I’m now off my Asthma meds. and my Family Dr can’t believe how healthy my lungs are now. I also have RA, Lupus, and was born with Marfan Syndrome, With food supplements, adjustments and swimming I’m not on any meds. Other then Blood pressure because of the Marfan’s since I already had my Aorta replaced. I wish we would embrace both medical cultures to get off the spiral drug phase. Been there.

  8. Lori

    I have had a chronic cough for many years, recently realizing it is due to GERD even though I do not have heartburn. An internist put me on a trial of Prilosec a few months ago and within days it got much worse. I have too little hydrochloric acid, not too much.
    A new doctor is now having me take Hydrochloric Acid/Pepsin supplements. The cough is finally getting better and I can now sleep through the night without waking up coughing all night long. From what I have read lately, a patient is never tested to determine if they have too little or too much acid in their stomach and is always treated with the assumption that heartburn is due to too much.
    There is a clinic in Seattle that does test for HCL levels and after testing 1,000’s of patients with heartburn, not even one has had too much acid. By suppressing the little acid one has left in the stomach, which can be due to age or other unknown reasons, the ability to absorb nutrients from food is greatly compromised which can cause all sorts of problems. Their viewpoint is that for many patients with heartburn there is too little acid causing the symptom, not too much, as counter-intuitive as it sounds.

  9. Marcus

    Mine gets really bad at night – I put raisers under the front legs of my bed so I wasn’t sleeping flat but with my head higher than my feet. Just a tip :)

  10. Sue

    Regarding heartburn and acid reflux – I have finally found that 2 or 3 tablespoons of Aloe Vera Gel works immediately to stop the pain. More is ok if needed but a small amount works for me and I have had severe heartburn for years and got no relief from over-the-counter remedies.

  11. Lynn

    I found that you can just purchase persimmon tea leaves in loose or bagged quantities. Just making the tea without the extras is just as effective! Now I can take the tea with me wherever I go and I enjoy the taste.

  12. Laura

    I just had my tonsils and adenoids removed and I am having a challenge getting the “glarp” in my throat to go away and to get my voice back. I sound like Minnie Mouse most of the time. My doctor suggested zegerid to treat acid reflux but I don’t have any heartburn or other symptoms. I didn’t like the list of side effects listed on the drug and I don’t want to have to stay on this medication into the future.
    I got the advice to make persimmon tea. Where can I find the recipe for the proper amounts of each ingredient to make it?

  13. sue

    Has anyone heard or read anything about recent studies or literature linking Melatonin with heartburn relief? What I read states that Melatonin is produced in the Pineal gland as well as the stomach and, for reasons I don’t understand, supplementing with Melatonin has helped some people who suffer from GERD symptoms.
    I would love to hear if anyone has tried this or knows any more scientific data to back this assertion up.
    I read one study quoted that sounded promising.

  14. rd8

    I will try some of these remedies, but my reflux is LPR not GERD. Any insight would be helpful.

  15. WJJ

    I have tried all the prescription drugs for GERD with no success. Are there any natural remedies for GERD? Need help–Very frustrated. Thank you.

  16. JWW

    A caller on the October 18, 2009 radio program gave a recipe for a tea made with fresh persimmon, cinnamon sticks, sugar and fresh ginger. Her husband and sister, both of whom suffered with severe acid reflux at night, had immediate relief by daily taking a shot glass of the tea once in the AM and again around 8 PM.

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