It’s not food causing your heartburn - 5 ways to address acid reflux naturally

It’s very common to think that heartburn is caused by excessive acids going out from your stomach and into your oesophagus, causing this burning feeling, often accompanied by pain and irritation.

But, you may be very surprised to learn that, in the majority of cases, reflux is caused by low rather than excess gastric acid (hypochlorhydria). Imagine taking antacids to manage heartburn when you are already producing less acid!

Woman with heartburn

Yes, you might imagine that it is not always wise to gulp down one antacid tablet after the other without thinking a moment to think what is the reason behind your symptoms. Further blocking the production of stomach acid when it is already low, will only add to your problem. Luckily, there are many natural alternatives that can work on the deeper cause of your problem.

Here are five potential causes that should be explored in order to identify the underlying cause of your heartburn:

1. Rule out a hiatal hernia

The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm - the muscular wall separating the chest cavity from the abdomen. Normally, the esophagus (food pipe) goes through the hiatus and attaches to the stomach. In a hiatal hernia (also called hiatus hernia) the stomach bulges up into the chest through that opening.

A hiatal hernia can be ruled out by endoscopy, reflex or muscle testing.

2. Check for food sensitivities/intolerances

Particularly gluten and/or lactose intolerance. This can be done through a blood test (IgG antibodies) or through a food elimination protocol (you may want to ask for the help of a naturopath or nutritional therapist).

For an in-depth explanation of the differences between nutrition professionals, read ‘Understanding the difference between dietitians, nutritionists and nutritional therapists’.

3. Test for small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

If you have SIBO, gut bacteria translocate from the large to the small intestine causing a range of digestive symptoms, including bloating, change in bowel motility, flatulence, fatigue, pain or may be totally asymptomatic.

A lactulose breath test can be ordered through your practitioner.

4. Test your pancreatic function

The exocrine glands of your pancreas secrete a number of digestive juices that contain enzymes that help break down food, to absorb and digest it properly. Many people have a lower number of digestive enzymes due to many different factors, including stress, rapid eating, overconsumption of food or constant snacking.

A comprehensive digestive stool test can help you rule out pancreatic digestive insufficiency. Talk to your practitioner about it. Low stool chymotrypsin or elastase will indicate low pancreatic enzymes.

5. Cut out potential triggers

The simplest way to manage heartburn is to avoid certain foods, chemicals, and habits that aggravate the problem (but that are not necessarily the trigger, rather mediators). In other words, cut out the CRAP!


  • coffee
  • cigarettes
  • chocolate


  • refined carbohydrates e.g. white flour or white sugar
  • rapid eating
  • Rx (medical drugs e.g. antihypertensives, muscle relaxants)


  • acid foods e.g. fruits such as grapes or tomatoes
  • alcohol
  • allergic foods


  • pop soda
  • peppermint
  • packin’ in food at bedtime
  • progesterone (medication or excess production)

Here is a more extensive list of medications that can cause reflux by relaxing the oesophageal sphincter (between your stomach and your oesophagus):

  • progesterone
  • calcium channel blockers
  • alpha-adrenergic antagonists
  • beta-adrenergic agonists
  • menthol
  • anticholinergics

Remember, you should always talk to your GP or a nutrition professional in order to find out what the reason for your suffering is, before starting any medical or supplemental protocol.

If you suspect more serious disease, you should discuss with your GP the possibility of having an endoscopy.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London NW8 & NW1

Written by Olianna Gourli

London NW8 & NW1

Olianna Gourli is a qualified naturopath/nutritional therapist, with a background in science and research (BSc hons.), mBANT, rCNHC). She has great expertise in gastrointestinal issues, such as IBS, hormonal imbalances and women's health, stress and chronic fatigue. She sees clients in her clinics in London, Athens and through Skype.

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