Best Natural Treatments for Heartburn, GERD, and IndigestionDr. Zoltan P. Rona, MD, M.Sc. June 27, 2023
By now, most of you are aware of the horrors of the drug epidemic that is causing thousands to die each year as a direct result of prescription opiates that include OxyContin, oxycodone, fentanyl, and others.) In my view, a much lesser known but more cruel and unusual punishment is the slow but certain death suffered by chronic users of a class of drugs called PPIs.
A few years ago, I wrote about PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) and warned about the dangers of long-term use of this class of heartburn-relieving medications in a Vitality article. (See excerpt of that original article included at the end of this one.)
Now I offer this article as a second, and louder, warning.
In my private practice, not a day goes by without the arrival of patients who have been prescribed PPIs for heartburn, GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disorder), or indigestion by their family doctors or specialists. Some of these people have been on the drugs for years. This is in spite of the fact that we now have proof that this class of drugs can cause early death in addition to side effects like dementia, osteoporosis, recurrent infections including pneumonia and Candidiasis, as well as kidney failure.
Despite this, the number of prescriptions issued for PPIs is nothing short of staggering. For example, in 2015 there were 15 million prescriptions for Nexium alone, just one of the numerous PPI choices.
PPIs are called proton pump inhibitors because they bind or inhibit an enzyme (hydrogen potassium adenosine triphosphatase), also known as the proton pump. The proton pump causes the parietal cells in the stomach to produce acid. Through this proton pump inhibition, stomach acidity is reduced or eliminated much more and for much longer periods of time than the histamine H-2 receptor blockers (e.g. cimetidine or ranitidine).
To be specific, here is the current list of generic and brand names of PPIs most commonly in use:
– omeprazole (Prilosec, Prilosec OTC)
– aspirin and omeprazole (Yosprala)
– lansoprazole (Prevacid, Prevacid IV)
– dexlansoprazole (Dexi-lent, Dexilent Solutab)
– rabeprazole (Pariet, Aci-phex, Aciphex Sprinkle)
– pantoprazole (Protonix, Tecta)
– esomeprazole (Nexium, Nexium IV, Nexium 24 HR)
– esomeprazole magnesium/naproxen (Vimovo)
– omeprazole/sodium bicarbonate (Zegerid)
Some of these PPIs have also been combined with other drugs (e.g. Vimovo). This appears to be either an attempt to fool people into thinking the combos are safer or somehow more effective, or is just a money grab for a new type of drug formula. One recently published article in ProPublica claimed it to be the latter. These drugs make billions of dollars for Big Pharma each year.
Side Effects of Heartburn Drugs
PPIs are well tolerated if used for a few days or weeks, but common side effects can include constipation (a frequent symptom of excessively low stomach acidity), diarrhea, headache, skin itch, and skin rash. Rarely, there are reported cases of acute pancreatitis, flu-like illnesses, vomiting, low platelets, hepatitis, and autoimmune disorders. Adverse drug reactions vary from person to person but can be quite devastating when these medications are used for extended periods of time.
Proton pump inhibitors can raise the risk of hip fractures by 44% if taken for longer than a year because, when you block acid production, you make it more difficult for the body to absorb calcium.
When you suppress or eliminate the body’s acid production with these drugs, you also make it harder for the gastrointestinal tract to digest food – causing gas, bloating, and constipation. Sometimes this set of symptoms is labelled as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), for which further medication is often prescribed. (By the way, ginger and/or enteric-coated peppermint oil might be a reasonable alternative to the drugs commonly used to treat IBS.)
When PPIs are used regularly, stomach acidity can become so reduced that the body fails to absorb vital nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc, and numerous other minerals. Because these drugs reduce acidity, they can impair a person’s primary defence against bugs in food (bacteria, parasites, and fungi like Candida). This can then lead to both acute and chronic gastrointestinal infections like C. Difficile, which in turn can set one up for a lifetime of IBS, Candidiasis, and food sensitivity syndromes. Essentially, a person is increasing their risk of food poisoning every time they use these drugs.
Natural Alternatives to Heartburn and GERD Drugs
“There are studies showing that about 40% of patients don’t have an evidence-based reason to be taking a proton pump inhibitor, and that a lot of patients haven’t tried other alternative therapies such as lifestyle modifications or medications that aren’t as strong, or ones that have fewer side-effects.”
Dr. Emily McDonald, McGill University; 2016
The biggest issue with PPIs is the length of time that one uses the drug. Clearly, questioning the use of PPIs after a year of continuous use is a smart thing to do. A word of warning here: do not take yourself off a PPI without medical supervision. PPIs can be lifesaving for those with bleeding ulcers and other serious gastrointestinal issues. Going off of them suddenly can cause serious problems for some individuals, so always work with your doctor to wean off these prescriptions.
As far as I know, no one was born with a PPI deficiency. In my experience, less than 5% of patients prescribed this class of drugs really need to take them. Even if they do, the treatment length of time for heartburn unrelated to ulcers, gastritis, or serious pathology should be no more than a few weeks. Natural alternatives are just as effective and certainly much safer.
LIFESTYLE: Since stress, poor lifestyle choices such as cigarette smoking, and physical inactivity can cause hyperacidity as well as just about any disorder, efforts should definitely be made to make major changes in these areas.
INFECTION: Helicobacter pylori bacterial infections are usually thought to be the cause of peptic ulcer disease and the symptoms that trigger doctors to prescribe either proton pump inhibitors or other drugs. There are a variety of tests your doctor can order for you to make the diagnosis. These include blood tests, breath tests, X-rays, ultrasounds, scopes and even biopsies. Medical doctors treat the H. pylori infection with antibiotics and a variety of antacids and/or acid suppressing drugs.
DIET: With respect to diet, the best thing to do is eat frequent small meals throughout the day instead of the usual three large meals. Drink more spring or purified water to help dilute acid excess. Therapeutic vegetable juices include carrot, spinach, beet, cucumber, parsley, celery, cabbage and potato. These should be used liberally throughout the day (2 quarts daily). Raw, organic, potato juice consumed just before breakfast can help reduce acid regurgitation. (Ed. note: As well, a glass of room temperature water with a squeeze of lemon juice or a spoonful of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar in it can calm the stomach and aid digestion.) Avoid red meat, alcohol, hot sauces, spicy and fried foods, added salt, caffeine products, sugar, and refined carbohydrate products. If you use aspirin, replace it with white willow bark capsules. At least this will not further aggravate the discomfort.
FOOD ALLERGY: A large number of people suffer from hyperacidity because of an allergy to milk protein (casein) or gluten found in most grains. Testing for food allergy or sensitivity might be a good idea in the more stubborn cases failing to respond to other diet and supplement changes.
SUPPLEMENTS: If you have been diagnosed as having an H. Pylori infection, a common cause of ulcers and gastritis, then the standard medical therapy is antibiotics plus antacids of one kind or another. Alternative natural health products that work like natural antibiotics include garlic, wild mountain oregano oil, mild silver protein (colloidal silver at 23 ppm or less) and berberine. Side effects (in comparison to prescription antibiotics) are minimal. You may already have heard of their safety and efficacy for numerous infections in the gut and other organs like the lungs and sinuses (bronchitis and sinusitis).
Both prescription and natural antibiotics can inhibit the growth of your friendly gut flora including bifido bacteria. This is why, if indeed there is proof of an H. Pylori infection, a multi-strain high potency probiotic (60 billion organisms) should be taken about two hours away from any antibiotic prescription. To soothe any gastrointestinal discomfort and help in the repair of damaged gut tissue, there is a long list of nutritional supplements that can be highly beneficial. Bovine colostrum contains immune modulating substances and has a long history of use to successfully treat chronic diarrhea and other gut disorders.
Essential fatty acid supplements (flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, salmon oil, evening primrose oil, borage oil) are anti-inflammatory and have numerous healing properties. Other nutrients than can either curtail H. Pylori or improve healing include choline, lecithin, PABA, bismuth, bentonite, goldenseal, slippery elm, burdock, manuka honey, ginger root, mastic gum, and aloe vera juice.
Another very effective gut remedy is licorice root, but be careful here. It should be noted here that the long-term use of licorice can elevate blood pressure in some sensitive individuals. The glycyrrhetinic acid component of licorice is what is responsible for this potential side effect. The best way of getting around this problem while still taking advantage of licorice’s ability to protect the gastrointestinal lining from acid irritation is to use deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). Many herbal brands manufacture DGL, a supplement widely available at most health food stores and pharmacies specializing in natural remedies. DGL encourages the goblet cells of the stomach to secrete more mucin, a natural agent that protects the lining of the stomach and duodenum from acid. It is not an antacid but works like one without preventing mineral absorption.
The amino acid L-Glutamine can also be very useful in treating most hyperacidity symptoms. Well known for its ability to improve muscle definition, L-glutamine can also play a major role in repairing the lining of the gut while reducing food cravings and heartburn symptoms. The usual effective dose is 5000 mg twice daily. I recommend that people use it in a powdered form, mixed with water.
The four-herb combination of burdock, slippery elm, Turkish rhubarb, and sheep sorrel (a.k.a. Essiac) is effective for a wide range of gut problems including hiatus hernia, duodenal ulcers, gastritis, colitis, Crohn’s disease, non-specific indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids and bowel infections. It can be used alone or in combination with DGL, aloe vera juice, or prescription medications in more resistant cases. Check with your doctor or naturopath for a personalized treatment regime.
- Yan Xie, Benjamin Bowe, Tingting Li, Hong Xian, Yan Yan, Ziyad Al-Aly. Risk of death among users of Proton Pump Inhibitors: a longitudinal observational cohort study of United States veterans. BMJ Open, 2017; 7 (6): e015735 DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-015735
- The Dangers of PPIs (by Chris Kresser). https://tinyurl.com/h8sw6cw
- Overmedication with PPIs (report on CBC). https://tinyurl.com/y9njyto6
- Zoltan P. Rona. Drugs You Don’t Need. https://tinyurl.com/b3nsfmd
- Proton pump inhibitors drug class. https://www.medicinenet.com/proton-pump_inhibitors/page2.htm
- How Two Common Medications Became One; posted on ProPublica: Journalism in the Public Interest. https://tinyurl.com/yccrvd8o
- L-Glutamine for ulcers; published in the Harvard Gazette: https://tinyurl.com/yaf4a3y4
- L-Glutamine: the ultimate healing supplement.https://www.naturalnews.com/035956_glutamine_supplements_healing.html
Zoltan P. Rona, MD, MSc, offers consultations on nutrition and natural remedies in Thornhill. He has recently retired from medical practice as a Complementary and Alternative medical practitioner and now strictly offers nutritional consultations. He is the medical editor of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing and has also published several Canadian bestselling books, including Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin. To see more of Dr. Rona’s articles, visit: www.highlevelwellness.ca and for appointments, please call (905) 764-8700; office located at: 390 Steeles Ave. W., Unit 19, Thornhill, Ontario