Putting Out the Flames of Heartburn

Putting Out the Flames of Heartburn

Julian Whitaker, MD

One in five Americans regularly suffers with heartburn or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder), and a significant percentage of them are on Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Protonix, or another pricey proton pump inhibitor (PPI). Nexium alone raked in $4.8 billion in the U.S. in 2008.

Downside of GERD Drugs

These drugs, which block the production of stomach acid, have a number of serious side effects. PPIs increase risk of both pneumonia and C. difficile bacteria-related diarrhea. They interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12 and calcium and are linked with increased fracture risk. They also inhibit the activity of certain medications. Heart patients who take a PPI in conjunction with Plavix, an anti-platelet drug, are 25 percent more likely to be hospitalized or die of cardiovascular causes than those who take Plavix alone.

PPIs are also linked with weight gain—an average of 7.7 pounds over 2.2 years, according to one study. And, believe it or not, they can actually cause the problems they are supposed to treat. In a 12-week study conducted last year involving healthy people who took either 40 mg of Nexium or a placebo daily for eight weeks, 44 percent of those on Nexium developed heartburn, indigestion, or related symptoms. During the last four weeks of the study, everyone was switched to placebo. Yet, at the study’s conclusion, 21 percent of those who had taken the PPI earlier continued to have heartburn. Only 2 percent in the placebo group reported symptoms.

Safe, Natural Alternatives

Fortunately, you have plenty of safe, natural options. First and foremost, if your weight is an issue, get it under control. This in and of itself is often enough to make GERD symptoms disappear. Second, identify and eliminate heartburn triggers such as large meals, fatty foods, acidic juices and fruits, alcohol, caffeine, and lying down after meals.

My top supplement recommendation is deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). For chronic heartburn, chew a tablet (DGL needs to mix with saliva in order to become active) 20 minutes before meals. For occasional upset, take one tablet as needed. Zinc carnosine, chamomile, and aloe vera are also helpful.


  • To treat GERD, get your weight under control and avoid heartburn triggers (overeating, excess fat, acidic foods, and perhaps alcohol and caffeine).
  • Supplement recommendation include deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), one table chewed 20 minutes before meals. (Integrative Therapeutics makes a great, chocolate-flavored chewable DGL.) Zinc carnosine, chamomile, and aloe vera are also helpful; use as directed. Looks for these supplements in health food stores or order by calling (800) 810-6655.

Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healingclick here.

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