9 Steps to Reduce Acid Reflux Without Antacids

by JJ Virgin on August 14, 2013

You can probably recall a time after a big meal when your esophagus felt like it was on fire.

You were miserably stuffed and bloated. Maybe your sore throat had you convinced you were coming down with a bug.

So you swung by the drugstore to pick up a cherry-flavored antacid. When it didn’t kick in you swallowed a second little cupful… and a third… until that awful feeling finally went away.

You’re not alone!

Heartburn drugs are a multi-billion dollar industry fueled by millions of people who reach for them to relieve post-meal misery. Yet that temporary relief comes with potentially serious long-term consequences.

While reaching for an antacid when you’re suffering acid reflux can be tempting, over-the-counter antacids and pharmaceutical drugs oftentimes mask underlying problems and make things worse in the long run.

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Feel the Burn

According to one study, nearly a third of all U.S. adults experience heartburn and acid reflux (also called gastroesophageal reflux, or GER) symptoms weekly, while the more severe form of GER, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), affects about 20 percent of the population.

Conventional wisdom says that acid reflux occurs when too much stomach acid (which contains hydrochloric acid, or HCl) splashes upwards toward your esophagus, creating burning and discomfort. So you take an antacid to reduce that stomach acid and relieve the burning.

However, research shows that too little—not too much—stomach acid often creates GER.1 This makes sense when you consider that as you age, you make less HCl and you are more likely to suffer from acid reflux.

Here’s what happens:

1. You need enough HCl to activate enzymes that break down protein. Inadequate amounts of stomach acid mean you can’t always activate those enzymes, so that chicken breast you ate for dinner doesn’t sufficiently break down like it should.

2. As your undigested meal sits in your stomach, more stomach acid builds up. That acid can potentially reflux back up into your esophagus. Ouch!

In many cases, the whole cycle starts because you actually have too little HCl from the start.

Too Little Acid?

Scientific research supports the idea that too little stomach acid is the culprit. One study questioned whether too much HCl is responsible for GER.1

When stomach acid flowed freely, researchers found no esophagus damage occurred for several weeks. If stomach acid was really the problem, damage should occur almost immediately.

Furthermore, inadequate stomach acid sets the stage for gut issues. Your stomach is protein’s first stop for digestion. When it can’t do its job, that undigested protein goes to your small intestine, which has other jobs and isn’t always equipped to handle protein breakdown.

There, it can create numerous problems including inflammation, bacteria overgrowth, and leaky gut.

Rather than help the problem, antacids stop what little HCl you have, further hampering protein breakdown. So, you pay the price for short-term relief with increased risk for GER and more severe issues.

The Price Is Too High

The temporary relief of antacids or acid-reducing medications are never worth the long-term consequences. That “little purple pill” has now been proven to cause dangerous vitamin deficiencies and increased risk of osteoporosis, immune problems, and premature death.10,11

Fortunately, there are other things you can try that may bring long-term relief without harming your health.

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Try these 9 strategies to naturally relieve acid reflux without resorting to antacids and other potentially harmful drugs:

  1. Lose weight. Being overweight is a strong risk factor for GER symptoms.2 Trade heartburn for fat burning by focusing on a combination of lean protein, healthy fats, and slow-low carbs. For starters, drinking a loaded smoothie  for breakfast each morning provides the perfect fuel for fast, lasting weight loss.*
  2. Minimize problem foods. Certain foods cause changes that trigger stomach acid to back up into your esophagus. These problem foods include coffee, tea, tomatoes, citrus, and chocolate—check out this blog for a complete list. I know, some of these are my favorites too! (Hello, dark chocolate and coffee…) But for relief, try to at least temporarily eliminate them, especially at dinner time.
  3. Drink up (but at the right time). Some researchers theorize that heartburn is a sign of an internal water shortage, especially dehydration in the upper part of the GI tract. Yet too much water during meals can further dilute your stomach acid, contributing to insufficient protein breakdown. Go easy on liquid during meals; otherwise, drink up!
  4. Go low Sugar Impact. Several studies prove reducing or eliminating high Sugar Impact foods can relieve GER. One even found that simple carbs might contribute more to acid reflux than coffee or dietary fat.3 Check out this handy infographic to help you build a healthy plate that lowers your Sugar Impact.
  5. Nix the gluten. One study found when celiac patients ditched gluten, they experienced “a rapid and persistent improvement in reflux symptoms.”5 But you’re not off the hook if you don’t have full-blown celiac! About 30% of the population has some form of gluten sensitivity, and that creates many of the same symptoms, including GER. (That's why Cycle 1 of The Virgin Diet eliminates gluten and 6 other highly reactive foods to help you burn fat and eliminate miserable symptoms like acid reflux.)
  6. Slow down. I get it—schedules are more hectic than ever! But research shows that people who plow through their meals are more likely to experience heartburn and acid reflux. Slowing down is easier said than done, but try to be mindful when you’re eating.6 Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message you’re full. (Most people are on their second serving by that point.)
  7. Take a digestive enzyme supplement. Most people naturally make fewer digestive enzymes and produce less stomach acid as they grow older. Supplemental digestive enzymes can support optimal digestion, so protein and other foods are broken down more efficiently.* As a result, they may help reduce occasional heartburn, gas, and bloating. Try supplementing with a high-quality digestive enzyme supplement like Protein First Enzymes to promote efficient digestion.*
  8. Get great sleep. Research shows a vicious cycle: A poor night’s sleep increases acid reflux symptoms the next day, which in turn worsens overall sleep quality.8 About an hour before bed, turn off electronics, take a hot bath with Epsom salts, and unwind with a cup of chamomile tea to experience deeper, more consistent sleep. And don't forget the all-natural sleep aid I take every night: Sleep Candy™ is a safe, non-habit-forming blend of botanicals and nutrients that can help you fall and stay asleep without side effects.* (Get more sleep strategies in this blog.)
  9. Curb stress. You probably know all too well how stress, worry, and anxiety can trigger acid reflux and other symptoms of digestive upset. In fact, scientists found that people who experienced major stress had significantly increased blood pressure, pulse rates, and acid reflux symptoms.9 Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or just a long walk around the block with your dog can help you manage occasional stress and anxiety. 

The next time you're tempted to reach for that over-the-counter antacid, try these lifestyle tips and all-natural supplements instead. Your health is worth it!

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The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8420248
2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19660463
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15929752
4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11712463
5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16871438
6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20601132
7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15330896
8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22314561
9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17803014
10 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4110863/
11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2974811/