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Heartburn? 7 Solutions Instead of Pill-Popping

I am very familar with these conditions as they have been persistent in my family for years: acid-reflux, GERD, over-production of acid -- whatever you want
May 2, 2010 | Joy McCarthy

I am very familar with these conditions as they have been persistent in my family for years: acid-reflux, GERD, over-production of acid -- whatever you want to call it, it's no fun. In fact, when I was a teenager I was popping Tums and Maalox like candy because I was in a constant state of pain from heartburn and always bloated to the point of having to undo the top button of my jeans. Sound familiar?

Rather than stuffing yet another pill down your throat and suppressing those symptoms, let's look at these conditions a little closer as this might surprise you. Not only were these conditions prevalent in my family, but they are probably one of the most common problems I see with my clients. This statement might come as a surprise and shock you, but the majority (not all) of people actually don't produce enough stomach acid to adequately digest and break down their food.

The majority (not all) of people actually don't produce enough stomach acid to adequately digest and break down their food.

Simple test to determine if you have too much stomach acid.

This is one of the oldest tests you can perform on yourself at home to determine if you have overproduction of hydrochloric acid: As well, if you are one of many people now following my daily tip of drinking lemon and water every morning on an empty stomach and you do this WITHOUT stomach pain, I can assure you, you are NOT producing too much acid. In fact, this is one of the simplest (older than your grandmother) tests to determine if you have too much acid - simply drink lemon and water. Once digested, the lemon leaves an alkaline ash, but going down the pipe it's acidic and will give you pain if you have too much acid in your gut.

Before you go taking any pills to suppress acid production, consider these points:

  • Acid suppressing products create an overly alkaline stomach environment and therefore raise the pH of the liquids in your stomach. Minerals require an acidic digestive environment to be properly digested and absorbed. If you lack proper stomach acid and don't absorb your minerals, this can lead to diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, arthritis and even heart problems (among other things).
  • Stomach acid is needed for the proper breakdown of proteins into amino acids. Amino acids are the building block of life. Every cell in your entire body depends on amino acids from your skin to your brain. For example, without proper breakdown and absorption, your neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) do not have the raw materials to function. Many forward thinking doctors are now very well versed in treating depression as a nutritional deficiency because they realize the profound impact amino acids and other co-factors such as B and D vitamins have on brain health. If you don't have good gut health and sufficient HCL, you cannot break down your protein and feed your brain.
  • Stomach acid is also one of the first lines of defense against pathogenic bacteria. A lack of stomach acid can mean more bad bacteria getting in through the digestive tract leading to food poisoning, illness and disease
  • The sad truth is if you have heartburn and you start pill popping, you begin a very vicious cycle of even more stomach problems that lead to more serious problems later on in life. In fact, just ask your doctor how many clinical trials of your acid-suppressing drug has been tested and studied for use on patients for more than six months? It will be tough to find because those drugs are meant for acute treatment, not chronic. Remember drugs simply mask symptoms, they do not address the root cause -- this is where nutritional therapy comes in.


Here are some natural ways to reduce heartburn.

1. First rule out Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacterium that causes chronic inflammation of the inner lining of the stomach, which translates to "pain". This is a simple blood test your doctor can order and if you test positive, it's very easily corrected.

Food combining will ease the burden of food digestion on your gut.

2. Practice food combining. This will ease the burden of food digestion on your gut. Protein and fats take the longest to digest. If you mix all your macronutrients together (protein/carb/fat) this could be a recipe for disaster. Carbs ferment and rot very easily causing gas, pain and bloating because they are digested in the small intestine and not meant to hang around in your gut while your steak digests in your stomach. Practice food combining and eliminate these problems. There are varying levels of food combining that I advise my clients on and every person is unique, but here are some basic rules to follow:

  • Combine column A & B
  • Combine column B & C
  • Do not combine A & C unless you have optimal digestion.
Proteins Neutral Foods Starches
All meat, chicken, turkey Most vegetables Cakes and cookies
Yogurt and cheese All salads Sweet potatoes
Eggs Berries Sugar
Fish Nuts and seeds Bread, crackers, pasta
Beans Herbs Grains
Olive oil Juice and sweet

3. Spice up your meal with: ginger, dill, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, fennel. Or drink a cup of peppermint tea, ginger or dandelion 30 minutes after a meal to improve your digestion.

4. Avoid dairy products, they are very acidifying and may provide immediate relief of heartburn because they are alkaline, but the problem is they leave an acidic residue - making heartburn WORSE and they increase inflammation in the gut.

5. Avoid heartburn triggers: greasy fried foods, sugar, alcohol, coffee. I'm sure you already know this from the hundreds of commercials showing a guy in a diner eating bacon and eggs, chased by a coffee and then he's doubled over in pain. Coffee in particular is a heartburn inducer big time. Why? Simply stated, it's a stimulant. It stimulates your gut to secrete acid at the WRONG time, just like how it stimulates your bowels to immediately evacuate.

Yet another reason to avoid coffee - a premature bowel movement inhibits proper absorption of vital nutrients to your health. Your B vitamins that keep anxiety in check are absorbed in your small intestine, throw some coffee into the mix and you may well be preventing your gut from having enough time to absorb these brain loving nutrients.

6. Exercise. Studies prove that a healthy gut stems from a healthy lifestyle. Aim to move every single day! Especially if you sit at a desk all day, your organs are all scrunched up especially if you don't have the posture of a ballet dancer which is not ideal for good gut health. As well, an increase in exercise will improve your circulation overall and this translates to good gut health.

7. Lastly, but certainly not least is STRESS. I'm sure if you suffer from heartburn your doctor will tell you "cut back on stress and this will decrease heartburn". Your doctor is bang-on, but I wonder if he knows why. Well, I'm going to tell you! Did you know that when your body is in "sympathetic nervous system mode" (stress response), your brain literally shuts down blood supply and energy to your stomach? This means, if you are eating while at work stressed out, your gut will not be supplying the enzymes and HCL needed to break down that tuna wrap at your boardroom meeting you are about to devour. Result? Pain in your stomach.


  • Imagine a plate of food, always eat your carbs first and your protein/fat last
  • Sweet potato and brown/wild rice combine well with fish if you have good digestion
  • Avoid raw foods if you have weak digestion.
  • Never eat dessert immediately after a meal. Wait at least 2 hours.
  • Always eat melon ALONE. They ferment the easiest. 

I could keep going on here with even more tips, but every person is unique. These are really the tip of iceberg. If you've read this very long post then I congratulate you and I want to share one last story, a personal one.

A Case Study:

My dad is a 60 year old man with a warm loving energy - ya my dad lights up a room, but that's not the point. I just felt like writing that because he's so damn cute and well... it's my blog so I can say what I want! Haha. Okay so, about three years ago while I was learning all about gut health, I asked my dad to be my guinea pig. Of course, he obliged because he'd been on acid suppressing meds for OVER 30 years, I kid you not. He wanted to go off meds, but had just believed his doctor that it was the best and seemingly only solution to prevent painful heartburn. Here's what we did:

1. Supplements: I put him on a super intense high quality probiotic and digestive enzyme that he takes with 2 meals a day.

2. Exercise and relaxing activities: Walking, kundalini yoga, elliptical (actually, my mom emailed me that he uses the "ellipitCATOR"), apparently it's been re-branded as this.

3. Drinks more water, at least 5-6 glasses per day and lemon and water first thing in the morning! But of course! :)

4. Change in eating habits: he eats less, practices food combining, switched to organic, STOPPED drinking cow's milk ya! My dad is a cheesehead and still eats the occasional cheese, but that's okay at least we got him off the milk. My parents drink almond milk now!

5. LESS stress from his career: He has less stress in his current job, his business partner is my mom and for some that might seem like a nightmare, but my parents actually really like each other. Yes I realize there is a small percentage of the population who stay married after 30 years and still love each other. I'm very grateful for this and my dad says having a business he loves and is passionate about really reduced his stress levels significantly.

So my dad has been following this for a few years now and guess what? He's a MILLION times better now!! He gets heartburn maybe once every other month and very rarely has to take any meds for relief. THIS is precisely the reason I love being a nutritionist SO VERY MUCH! When the root cause is addressed and a holistic approach is taken, nearly every health problem can be fixed with some dedication and openness to change.

I do hope that you share this post with someone you know suffering from digestive problems because they don't have to suffer in silence and pop meds for life that are NOT meant for long-term use and have many negative side effects.

Annie   •   May 2, 2010

Wow, Joy, this article really hit home for me. My hubby has been on Nexium for years and he needs to change his diet and have less stress. These solutions will help. Thank you!!


Janet   •   May 2, 2010

I found this through twitter. Amazing tips Joy. Love your blog, thank you so much!


Leesie   •   May 3, 2010

I always love a true story and especially hearing that someone got off meds -- just the best news! Thank you for sharing these great tips and super helpful information, Joy. I'll be passing this on to my twin brother.

joyousness   •   May 3, 2010

melissa   •   May 3, 2010

Joy, I have been suffering with this for 3yrs and on the meds. Everytime I stop the meds my symptoms get worse. My doctor said I have to stay on them or risk cancer of the esophogus. I really got a lot out of this blog :) Thank u...I am really going to try to stick to your suggestions. Hopefully this time I can stay off the meds for good!

joyousness   •   May 4, 2010

eddie   •   May 5, 2010

hello joy, i found your website doing a search on benefits of lemon and water. and now you have a post on heartburn. i just had my yearly checkup and my doctor has me on protonix for htburn. he thought that since i've been on the drug for 2 years i need a scope to evaluate my stom/ephosagus. i'm really excited about that. NOT! can you talk more about the supplements that you have your dad on? thanks, and joy you have a joyous day too. eddie i tried to send this to you from work. so if this is a double post please delete.

joyousness   •   May 5, 2010

eddie   •   May 7, 2010

hi joy, looking forward to your email. have a great day!


Christy   •   May 10, 2010

Thank you for this post!!!! I cannot thank you enough for this. I get heartburn all the time and im not normally a pill popper, but the acid reflux has gotten so bad that i started taking zantac! I cut out cow's milk, use almond milk for smoothies. I am more aware of food combining. I cut out coffee. I have the occasional chocolate bar, but stick to dairy free ones now. thank for again for the advice!

joyousness   •   May 11, 2010

Miranda @ mirandasjeans   •   May 23, 2010

Very interesting article. When I get home from work I will have to look at my husbands newly renewed prescription for his heartburn. He was off it for 2 days when He ran out and already He was experiencing heartburn again. Being that He works in a high stress shift work position He relies on coffee. But definitely worth having him read this article to encourage him to make some dietary changes.


Sam   •   May 23, 2010

After reading your articles on Lemon water, and with the advice of my nutritionist, I started having warm lemon water first thing in the morning, and I can really see the difference in heartburns, etc. Great Advice , thank you


H pylori   •   June 20, 2010

Thank you for sauch an informative and invested article. The case study's results are very impressing. Wish health and welness to your father.


How To Get A Flat Belly & Improve Your Digestion « joyous health   •   August 25, 2010

[...] Do NOT chew gum! Nearly every gum chewer I meet has digestive issues, either constant heartburn or always bloated. If you have bad breath and need to chew gum, you actually need to address your [...]


Christine   •   August 28, 2010

Hi Joy, Could you clarify what neutral foods are?

joyousness   •   August 30, 2010

Jeanette   •   October 6, 2010

Hi Joy, I am so happy to have come across your site. I am certainly going to try your suggestions. I am on Pariet twice a day for severe heartburn, despite a perfectly normal scope (so the specialist tells me). Despite the pariet and a very bland diet, I still have horrid chest pain and heartburn. Do you have any other suggestions? I had an ultrasound of the gallbladder which was also normal and full blood tests, normal. I am feeling a bit desperate to control this. It is 7 months now and I just cant get any answers... Thanks again. Jeanette


How To Get A Flat Belly & Improve Your Digestion | joyous health   •   October 13, 2010

[...] Do NOT chew gum! Nearly every gum chewer I meet has digestive issues, either constant heartburn or always bloated. If you have bad breath and need to chew gum, you actually need to address your [...]


Jules   •   December 14, 2010

Really good post, sometimes I forget about these, I know most of them, but somehow lose track of them every now and then...Of to look through the rest of the blog, can't wait to read more good tips...Love, Jules


Carrie   •   December 16, 2010

Hi Joy, Your article is AMAZING!!I am sure will give it a try on what you mentioned in the article. My husband was diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus and we need to change his diet totally to keep the stomach acid down!!The doc also prescribed him "losec" (we live in New Zealand and I think it's the same as most acid production supressing meds) He's a vegetarian with a very limited food choice (egg is OK), so it makes it very tricky!! It's safe for him to eat Tofu, bean curd, soya milk, ect on a daily base? I am not sure whether soy products are OK with this heartburn condition? If not, we may have to convince him to eat some chicken and fish. Also, I am very interested in what supplements that you put your dad on? Many thanks in advance!! Carrie


5 Tips For A Healthy Slim Holiday Season |   •   December 31, 2010

[...] loss. Do not drink water with food because it’s dilutes your digestive juices and can lead to bloating and gas. You want that fire in your gut to be STRONG when you eat. Don’t put it out by drinking while [...]


Roni   •   March 7, 2011

Wonderful article!! I am going to sit and relax while I eat my meals from now on - I didn't know that the body doesn't supply the needed enzymes to digest and break down the food in the stomach


Suzanne Williams   •   May 3, 2011

Wow, thank you for the info. A ton of great things to work and think on. Saving this post for reference. Thanks!!! Suzanne


L   •   November 7, 2011

Hello, I have no gallbladder (out 10 years ago) having bile reflux issues. I will start your combining food suggestions today. I just ordered some enzymes and will start taking them with dinner as soon as I receive them, not sure if the lemon in water will be of any help for me but will try because my stomach burns and so does my throat sometimes. What do you think about the honey and cinnamon first thing in the morning to coat and heal the stomach. And do have probiotic yogurt in the morning for about a month now and do take b12 in the morning with floradix iron pills due to anemia because of heavy periods, close to menopause (48 yrs old). And just started taking 600mg of calcium chews with 400mg of d(calcium is a mix of carbonate, citrate, malate, fumarate, succinate) right after dinner with 100mg of magnesium just before bed for a better night sleep. No medication or anything else. Do have 1.5 cup of coffee in the morning and 1 cup of green tea (loose leaf) in the afternoon. And do not eat after 6:30 pm. As for exercise I like walking use to do the rebounder for 10 minutes but it made my reflux worst so now just do push ups and walk. Thanks for all the great info. Love your blog. Take Care. L


L   •   November 7, 2011

What about butter, can you combine with grains as in toast. Do like butter on my honey and oat bread. Thanks.

Joy McCarthy   •   November 7, 2011

PR_Cal   •   November 15, 2011

I'm a little confused, as I just read another one of your articles (for vegetarians) that says to combine beans with grains. This goes against the above food combining rules? I'm a vegetarian, so what would I do for optimal health?

Joy McCarthy   •   November 18, 2011

Janet Walker   •   March 20, 2012

Great suggestions, Joy. I would like to add one: Diaphragm tension, as a result of stress or poor breathing habits, can contribute to acid-reflux or GERD. Practicing diaphragmatic breathing can reduce symptoms, and help manage stress!


Joyous Health   •   March 16, 2013

[...] of your digestive system. Your gut provides you with signs and symptoms such as constipation and heartburn when things are off so it’s really not surprising your poop’s appearance tells you a lot [...]


Joyous Health   •   January 30, 2014

[…] is as common as being constipated and suffering from heartburn. In fact, digestive issues top the charts in terms of number of doctors visits per year and […]


Indigestion Pills Are More Crutch Than Cure – The Scattered Writings of Cory Buck   •   April 27, 2014

[…] Instead of a pill in the morning, I try to eat something with probiotics. Greek yogurt is an obvious one, but there are plenty of foods and supplements you can try. […]


Irina   •   July 23, 2014

Hi Joy! Very interesting and informative. Could I ask if all your recipes in the blog and book follow the food combining rules, so we can follow them blindly? Thank you so much. I'm a big fan.

Irina   •   July 23, 2014
Kate McDonald-Walker   •   July 23, 2014

Joanne Goodman   •   March 14, 2015

Hi Joy, Since I've been eating so much better and drinking lemon water in the morning before breakfast, I have stopped taking pantoprazole!!! I AM so happy with my progress! I've started yoga and loving it! I have to tell you it is so nice to hear how you speak of your parents! So precious!!! Thank you for all that you do!


Elmase   •   March 17, 2015

My girlfriend was recently diagnosed with Acid Reflux. I am against medications, I understand it's place; I rather the holistic approach first and medication as the last resort. We woul like to schedule a conference chat via face time. Please tell us if you are available this Saturday. We are located in Florida. Need of your assistance Elmase

Kate McDonald Walker   •   March 18, 2015

Pris   •   September 22, 2016

Hi Joy, Thank you so much for posting such an informative article with so many great interesting facts about heartburn and along with natural remedies and advice that can help so many people suffering from these symptoms. I have a question for you please, as the article mentioned so many wonderful solutions to help heal the body and alleviate symptoms, healing the body takes time and is a work in progress and was wondering as this process is happening and the symptoms occur if you have any advice/suggestions on remedies that can help give some instant relief when an episode of heartburn occurs, to help ease/soothe the symptoms? As it can be quite uncomfortable to handle the symptoms, especially at times when you are outside ( work, out with friends, etc.) and can sometimes cause you feel weary to go out at times with the worry that something could trigger and can affect your daily life in many ways. If you have any advice or suggestions it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for your time. Pris

Heather Allen   •   September 23, 2016

France Gingras   •   January 29, 2017

Is taking a bit of baking soda in a glass of water ok for heartburn? It works for me but not sure if safe .. thanks


Anu   •   March 6, 2017

Hi Joy , My son, 3 yrs old has a very bad acid reflux , when he was 3 months old he was put on the acid reflux medicine and he was not latching properly so we gave him a combination of breastmilk and formula ..anyway...he latched later and i continued breastfeeding him uptil 16 months ...but he still gets these gags after meals and his nose is always blocked ..i have tried a lot of natural remedies but nothing is working out. I feel cows milk is to blame ...can I give him nut milk or goat milk Just to see if his acid reflx gets better.I would really appreciate if you have any suggestions on acid reflux in kids. Thanks

Joy McCarthy   •   March 8, 2017
Joy McCarthy   •   March 8, 2017

Marini   •   May 21, 2017

Hi Joy.. I am GAD now. The doctor took me an USG tests and said that my organs are in good shape, however he said my mind was the issue. May I eat raw food such as lettuce, 2 minutes brocolli? Thanks. Love from Indonesia.


Lin   •   March 2, 2019

Joy thank you so so much for this article. I have no gallbladder and been struggling with digestion but lemon and water has been helping me alot first thing in morning but what has helped me alot this past week was u suggested in article above is to drink a cup of peppermint tea, ginger or dandelion 30 minutes after a meal to improve your digestion - well been doing ginger tea after lunch and dandelion tea after dinner and wow what a difference. For me lemon water was not enough morning only probably due to no gall bladder. Now trying to find a probiotics that my body will love I tried kefir kombusha nope body doesn't like it and do not want to take supplements what else can I take for probiotics is raw honey a good probiotic? I've been adding that to my lemon water past week 😊🍯tx again for all you do ❤️ only dairy I do is good quality cheese would cheese count has a probiotic? I tried an almond yogurt did not like at all 😔

Joy McCarthy   •   March 2, 2019
Lin   •   March 2, 2019
Joy McCarthy   •   March 3, 2019
Lin   •   March 4, 2019

Pat   •   March 4, 2019

Great ideas I've read this twice and I'm going to try the lemon and water every morning Your info is great thanks Joy


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