Natural Alternatives to Antacids, Heartburn Drugs, and PPIs

Heartburn drugs are a $15 billion a year industry in North America, mainly because it’s far more profitable to steer people to medications than to healthier diets, stress reduction, or herbal remedies

Lawsuits against drug companies for serious side effects (including death) caused by their products are not uncommon. Most recently Bloomberg News reported that Pfizer has just settled more than 10,000 lawsuits regarding Zantac, the popular heartburn drug it manufactures. The lawsuits claim that the drug company hid the cancer risks associated with Zantac from the public. The drug has been on the market for over 30 years and it is not fully known how many patients developed cancer as a result of using it.

Thousands of drugs are available in the drug compendium but only a few dozen are truly disease-curative, or what you might call life-saving. The vast majority of them work to temporarily or permanently suppress symptoms, failing to get to the root of the real physiological or biochemical imbalances.

Some of these drugs are actually dangerous. The outcomes of their long-term use can be detrimental in terms of one’s general health, longevity, or sense of well-being. Years after their release, some are the subject of lawsuits while others are simply pulled off the market due to dangerous side effects. Vioxx and Propulsid were just two such examples.

What this article will attempt to do is to alert you to the dangers of using these symptom suppressors and provide some safer or more effective alternatives. One must remember that every treatment, even a medication, has a place in healthcare – but drugs are not necessarily your only or best choice.

Heartburn Drugs, Antacids, and Co.

Heartburn could be a sign of ulcers, gastritis, GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disorder), H.pylori infections, or the rarely seen Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome. Heartburn drugs are a $15 billion a year industry in North America, mainly because it’s far more profitable to steer people to medications than to healthier diets, stress reduction, or herbal remedies like slippery elm, ginger, digestive enzymes and deglycyrrhizinated licorice root lozenges (DGL). There’s more on these natural alternatives in the second half of this article.

The most popular and powerful of all heartburn drugs are the proton pump inhibitors, so called 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). The best known of this class of drugs are esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec, Losec), pantoprazole (Protonix), and rabeprazole (Pariet).

These drugs are well tolerated if used for a few days or weeks but common side effects 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 drugs are used for extended periods of time.

Both proton pump inhibitors and the histamine H-2 blocking drugs 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 decrease or eliminate acid production with these drugs or liquid antacids (e.g. Maalox, Gaviscon, Mylanta, et al.), you make it harder for the gastrointestinal tract to digest food and this can cause 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 for IBS.

When either proton pump inhibitors or the histamine H-2 receptor blockers like Tagamet, Zantac or Pepcid are used, stomach acidity can become so reduced that the body fails to absorb vital nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc and numerous others. These drugs also reduce your primary defence against bugs in food (bacteria, parasites and fungi like Candida). This then can lead to both acute and chronic gastrointestinal infections and often sets one up for a lifetime of IBS, candidiasis, and food sensitivity syndromes. Essentially, you are increasing your risk of food poisoning every time you use these medical “remedies”.

Clostridium difficile bacteria can cause life-threatening colitis. A 2005 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association discovered that people taking proton pump inhibitors were almost three times more likely to have a C-difficile infection than non-users. Those taking H2 receptor antagonists were twice as likely to have the infection.

Increased Risk of Pneumonia

A 2004 study reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that the risk of pneumonia was 89% higher for those using proton pump inhibitors and 63% higher for those using H2-receptor antagonists. Acid-suppressive drug users were four times more likely to have pneumonia than non-users. This underlines the importance of stomach acid as a systemic immune boosting substance. Suppressing stomach acid will have its infectious disease consequences, especially if this is done on a long-term basis.

In 2000, the histamine H-2 receptor blocker, Propulsid, was taken off the market due to associated cardiac deaths. While it seems to me that only cardiac deaths are the sole reason the HPB and the FDA take drugs off the market, perhaps increasing rates of life-threatening pneumonias and C. difficile infections ought to be considered for drug removal as well. Proton pump inhibitors and the histamine H-2 receptor blockers should be used sparingly, if at all.  Certainly, the natural alternatives are a better option here.

Natural Alternatives to Heartburn Medication

Much like antibiotics, heartburn drugs of all kinds are grossly over-prescribed. According to some health care professionals, perhaps one in a hundred people actually need these drugs, while 99 out of 100 really need to change their diets and/or use harmless alternatives.

Heartburn generally responds well to fresh-extracted organic vegetable juices that are non-acidic such as carrot, spinach, beet, cucumber, parsley, celery, cabbage and potato

There are probably as many natural remedies for hyperacidity as there are prescription drugs, so a person has many choices. If you are not sure what to do, a natural health care professional will be able to help.

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.

HELICOBACTER PYLORI – These bacterial infections are usually thought to be the cause of peptic ulcer disease and the symptoms that usually 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.

AVOID ASPIRIN – If you use aspirin, replace it with white willow bark capsules. At least this will not further aggravate the discomfort.

ELIMINATE FOOD ALLERGENS – A large number of people suffer from hyperacidity because of an allergy to milk protein (casein) or gluten found in most grains. Food allergy or sensitivity testing might be a good idea in the more stubborn cases failing to respond to other diet and supplement changes.

VITAMINS AND HERBS – Supplements that have a healing effect against H. pylori include garlic, wild mountain oregano oil, berberine, lactobacillus acidophilus and other probiotics. Also recommended are bovine colostrum, essential fatty acids (flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, salmon oil, evening primrose oil, borage oil), licorice root tincture or herbal tea, choline, lecithin, PABA, bismuth, bentonite. Other beneficial plants include goldenseal, slippery elm, burdock, manuka honey, ginger root, mastic gum, and aloe vera juice.

To help soothe acid reflux, a person can try drinking ginger tea, water, or non-acidic fruit or vegetable juices such as carrot, melon, or aloe vera.

Caveat: It should be noted 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.

FOOD AND DRINK – 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.

Heartburn generally responds well to fresh-extracted organic vegetable juices that are non-acidic such as carrot, spinach, beet, cucumber, parsley, celery, cabbage and potato. These should be used liberally throughout the day (2 quarts daily). Raw organic potato juice just before breakfast can help reduce acid regurgitation.

To further reduce the symptoms of heartburn, avoid red meat, alcohol, hot sauces, spicy and fried foods, added salt, caffeine products, sugar and refined carbohydrates (cake, cookies breads, etc).

ESSIAC – 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.

This article is not meant to replace the advice of a physician. When making any changes to your healthcare regimen, please consult a qualified healthcare professional.

Best Selling Books by Dr. Zoltan P. Rona:
Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
Return to The Joy of Health
Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook (co-authored with Jeanne Marie Martin).


  • Pfizer Agrees to Settle More than 10,000 Zantac Cancer Suits:
  • David C. Metz, MD; Long-term Proton Pump Inhibitor Therapy and Risk of Hip Fracture; JAMA. 2006;296:2947-2953.
  • Vanderhoff, Bruce T., and Rundsarah M. Tahboub. “Proton Pump Inhibitors: An Update.” American Family Physician 66 (2002): 273-80.
  • Physicians’ Desk Reference 2005. Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare, 2004.
  • Robert J. F. Laheij, PhD; Miriam C. J. M. Sturkenboom, PhD; Robert-Jan Hassing, MSc; Jeanne Dieleman, PhD; Bruno H. C. Stricker, MD, PhD; Jan B. M. J. Jansen, MD, PhD; Risk of Community-Acquired Pneumonia and Use of Gastric Acid–Suppressive Drugs; JAMA. 2004;292:1955-1960.
  • Sandra Dial, MD, MSc; J. A. C. Delaney, MSc; Alan N. Barkun, MD, MSc; Samy Suissa, PhD. Use of Gastric Acid–Suppressive Agents and the Risk of Community-Acquired Clostridium difficile–Associated Disease; JAMA. 2005;294:2989-2995.
  • What alternative medicines work for acid reflux?
  • What to drink if you have acid reflux:


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: and for appointments, please call (905) 764-8700; office located at: 390 Steeles Ave. W., Unit 19, Thornhill, Ontario

View Comments

  • Im on pantoprazole and having symptoms,only 5 days and doc says go on antacids for 2 to see if its pills. I need something natural for my inflammation in my esophagus. My joint pain has started and diarrhea and other symptoms.

    • You could start with some of the remedies listed in the article, especially DGL lozenges - 2 or 3 lozenges dissolved in your mouth several times daily as needed and gradually wean off the PPI with your doctor's supervision.

  • I suffer from acid and painful pain especially at night not.necessarly when i go to.bed
    I take two capsules of pariet and two capsules of rantag when i start feeling a bit of pain but.nothing helps but paracetamol

  • I was put on proposals and carafate. Gastro doctor said I had two tiny lesion. Report of scopes show no lesions. I had trouble immediately after starting these meds. I ended up with a perforated ulcer. Again, doctor pulled cancer scare and had never given me a real diagnosis of diet plan. After 20 months, a home density test came back with severe osteoporosis. Dr.',s notes say patient on pediatricians should be monitored. He did not. I found out all my teeth had developed so many cavities it was recommended I have my good straight pulled and implants. I went to doctor with list of specific symptoms,: no appetite, severe dry mouth, aversion to meet and toothpaste, etc. Again, he said I probably had cancer and needed another endoscope. I said no and that I wanted a gene tedt. He got furious. I told him he had never given me a diagnosis, diet, etc. He blamed others. Finally I was given a pamphlet on Gerd. I never had Gerd. I found out that in addition to bond loss and severe dry mouth, all I could taste was metal. He had me taking carafate Three times a day and I had a toxic level of aluminum. I stopped medication and started supplements to detox the aluminum. Months later I had another perforated ulcer and some hospitality came and told me I would die from this. I was switched to Fsmotadinr. Had serious adverse reactions. Rashes, severe eye pain and vision loss, skin cracking. Hair loss etc. Learned I have permanent damage to optic nerve. I am also having cognitive problems. Not in my family history. Next, I went to the DR and now have y'all stones. Again, something I have no genetic predisposition for. I can't eat. I have stomach pain. I never had stomach pain before. Taking tums all the time. Waiting for the next time and I'm afraid I won't survive. Using pectin and milk those to alleviate ball stone pain. Doctors in Weatherford , Texas are killing me. Gastroenteritis who put me on meds was just billing and billing. I Can't start treatment for home density until.I get my teeth rrplacef. I don't think I will survive. I EVER had any stomach problems. My father died of stomach cancer in ,1965 and this doctor kept trying to scare me. His file is full of things I never said. Can't and won't take PPIs. My GO put me on statins after first ulcer surgery. Almost died. Wish I had. I have never been " me" since. Scared to death. Anemic, weak, tired, depressed and angry. What should I do?

    • Not sure how long ago you wrote this but I hope all is well. God is good and he will see through this. I'll be praying for you. God bless you.

  • After my peptic ulcer medication for 1 and half month, doctor advised me to take Pantocid 40mg (Pantoprazole) for 3 months at morning. I have also completed that. I need some natural remedy which can keep me acidity and gas free for entire day. Please help

  • Dr. Rona,

    My duodenum and 1/3 of my stomach was removed 5 years ago due to a carcinoid tumor. I have been taking 20 mg of Omeprazole for 5 years. I had asked my GI and primary doctor about stopping the Omeprazole as there are side effects. They do not give me an alternative. I don't have reflux but was given the Omeprazole to keep down acid. Can you recommend anything?

  • I have been taking Prevacid for over 20 years for acid reflux , and it works to a degree. However, I haven plagued with chronic gas and bloating for almost as long. Recently, I noted that Prevacid has been taken off the market, but other generic drugs of Lansoprazole are available. Are there natural remedies that would replace the Prevacid, and mitigate the gas bloating st the same time?

  • I have been taking rabeprazole 20mg daily for 20 years and aprt from a few short episodes of gastritis, it has been very effective. About 2 months ago it stopped working. Can I increase the dose? Is it worth trying one of the other PPIs? Would it be a problem to take a PPI and zantec together, might that work synergistically? Off to see the Dr tomorrow and am doing some homework.

  • Just reading these comments make me sick, first of all please try to sue all Drs for medical malpractice, Attorneys are free, they get paid when you win. For your discomfort you must see a Dr that is trained in functional medicine, integrative medicines, they try to use traditional/conventional Big PHARMA medicine sparingly if at all. Big PHARMA loves profit over patients health. I have heard that Pharmaceutical companies pay Drs $30 for each prescription. If you have access to a computer, or iPad please try to enter that you have medical issues and what natural things can you do to help. And where can you find Drs that can help your situation. Complain to Attorneys and see what they can do. Most likely your on Medicare and low income. Can a friend advertise your situation on “Gofundme”? Perhaps you can get donations. Joseph Arsanis, Stockton, Ca.

  • Your insights are always a breath of fresh air, offering new perspectives and valuable takeaways. I love how you weave creativity and clarity into your posts, making them a joy to read! Your dedication to quality content is evident and truly appreciated by your audience. Every time I visit your page, I leave feeling inspired and motivated. Your ability to connect with your readers on such a personal level is a rare and wonderful gift.

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