glass of milk and chocolate chip cookies, dairy products, bedtime snacks

Judging from the popularity of medicines like esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec), heartburn symptoms are extremely common. Is there a better way to prevent the resulting discomfort rather than taking acid-suppressing drugs? Some people find that diet makes a difference.

Does Diet Affect Heartburn Symptoms?

Q. I had significant heartburn for a long time; I was actually admitted to the hospital twice for it over the years. None of the tests showed any damage to my esophagus.

I was put on Prilosec long-term and told to avoid spicy foods. The Prilosec didn’t help my heartburn symptoms all that much.

About two years ago, an acupuncturist suggested I go off dairy and gluten; she just thought I might feel better.

Oh, my goodness–my heartburn went COMPLETELY AWAY. I have not been troubled by it since (well, except for that time I ate a piece of banana cream pie).

When I mentioned this to the gastroenterologist, he said there were no studies on this subject. I am like a reformed smoker on this. A change in my diet has made all the difference in the world and I no longer need the daily Prilosec. I hope avoiding gluten and dairy foods can make a difference in someone else’s life.

Dairy- and Gluten-Free Meals to Avoid Reflux:

A. Some people find that a low-carbohydrate, gluten-free diet makes a huge difference in their heartburn symptoms. People with celiac disease must follow a gluten-free diet or suffer dire consequences for their health. They avoid anything made with barley, rye or wheat. Digestive upset often becomes less troublesome with this regimen (Laurikka et al, Nutrients, July 14, 2016).

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity:

Not everyone who feels better without gluten has celiac disease. Some people have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (Fasano et al, Gastroenterology, May 2015).

Lactose Intolerance:

Others lack the enzyme lactase that breaks down milk sugar. As a result, when they drink milk or consume dairy products, they may suffer stomach cramps, gas and diarrhea (Bayless et al, Current Gastroenterology Reports, May 2017).

One good way to discover your food triggers for heartburn, flatulence or other GI symptoms is to keep a food diary. We tell how in our Guide to Digestive Disorders, which also offers a number of other remedies for heartburn.

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  1. Mary in SC
    Charleston SC

    I was put on Nexium in my 50s for terrible heartburn and was told I’d need it the rest of my life. Then my niece (a nurse) told me the heartburn might be caused by gluten sensitivity, so I stopped eating wheat products to see what would happen. The heartburn completely disappeared!

    After a couple of years, I found I could tolerate a limited amount of wheat products, so I occasionally treat myself to a sandwich made with spelt flour (old original “unimproved” form of wheat flour). I get Rudi’s Ancient Grain spelt loaf bread (at Whole Foods or Earth Fare) and toast it a little. It tastes great – and no heartburn!

  2. Julie

    My dad is 96 years old and has taken tums for years like candy. I suggested he eat a fig newton (high alkaline food) either before, with or after a meal. He says it really works to eat 1 at each meal. He is not a big sugar person but the low fat fig newtons (generic) have given him such relief.

  3. Roy
    Baltimore, MD

    The most effective, safe and healthful remedy for heartburn is easy, and inexpensive. Simply drink a 12-16 oz. glass of water with a couple tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar daily. It’s not the most delicious beverage you’ve ever had (you can sweeten it with honey or organic agave, but it’s not necessary) but it really works. There is some evidence that it also helps control blood glucose levels, but I can testify that it stops reflux in its tracks. I’ve been doing it every morning for about two years, and have absolutely no more heartburn. Ever. And I’m married to a Sicilian, so tomatoes are a staple of our diet.

  4. Elizabeth
    Raleigh, NC

    I totally agree with this post. When I took gluten and lactose out of my diet, my life-long heartburn GERD symptoms went away completely and I no longer experienced frequent diarrhea. Now I can tell when I have had some gluten or lactose because the symptoms come back temporarily. Then I take some anti-gluten pills I buy at a health food store and they work pretty well to help relieve the symptoms.

  5. Donna
    Addison TX

    You missed a bet in skipping over the dairy component like you did.
    Six years ago I was complaining to the girl i babysit for of GERD indigestion so bad that I couldn’t sleep, and she blithely said “Well, you need to drop dairy!”

    This came out of nowhere, as far as i could tell, but it was worth a try – I was getting desperate- so I resolved to try it — and 3 days later I was fine! This after years of unpleasantness. I have been without dairy products since that day, and still feel great!

    I actually had not realized how very MUCH dairy I was consuming then.. In fact, when I looked for something to eat when I got home to start my self-imposed 3 day trial, I was nearly stumped: I had milk and butter, buttermilk, several types of cheese, several types of yogurt, cottage cheese, and ricotta – practically everything in my fridge was dairy!

    There is a great deal available online about how bad dairy consumption is for people. I’ve been keeping up with this topic for over 5 years now.
    Here is a very good talk on dairy by Dr. Neal Barnard of the PCRM (Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine):

  6. Michele
    Seattle, Wa

    I was on Prilosec for years for reflux, a natural path suggested no wheat or sugar, incredible results, reflux gone! I have since been diagnosed with osteoporosis , fairly young, according to my doctor, I’m wondering if the use of Prilosec contributed to the osteoporosis, is there any information on that?

  7. luce battikha
    FL - Florida

    I have LPR (laryngopharyngeal reflux) LPR is a condition that occurs in a person who has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid made in the stomach travels up the esophagus (swallowing tube). When that stomach acid gets to the throat, it is called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). I have not heartburn at all but barking cough and clearing my throat all the time. I have been on Prilosec for a while but not too much success. When I try to stop it, it gets worse. I have been put on Pantoprazole 40mg twice a day and it is not working all the time. I am not overweight, do not smoke, eat very well (no coffee, no chocolat,no tomatoes, etc… I have been avoiding all the bad food. I would like to get away from the Pantoprazole since that medication scares me. I have tried many natural way suggested on this side but it does not work very well. Any suggestions will be welcomed. Thank you

  8. d
    NW USA

    I am not willing to give up all those grains and all milk products in order to stop Omeprazole. Not a chance!I

    • Adam

      Was put on pantoprazole for gastritis and esophogitis it doesn’t seem to work keep having constant pain and nausea in my sternum zyphoid process area now I am loosing weight I’m at a complete loss and don’t know.

      What to do anymore also keep clearing my throats with clear phlegm could anyone offer suggestions

  9. Chris Wunsch

    I am so happy your reader successfully got off of the Acid Reflux “trap”…as many who start these drugs have a heck of a time getting of of them, due to rebound reflux, which only serves to ensure continued use. I myself have occasional reflux heartburn, and I fix it by taking a shot of Apple Cider Vinegar, and within minutes, the problem is GONE. I have successfully taught people how to taper off of their long term reflux drugs, by introducing Apple Cider Vinegar into the routine..a method I learned on The Peoples Pharmacy .

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