Don’t Want to Take a Daily Medication? 10 Things You Can Try for Heartburn

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Many of you don’t want to rely solely on medications for heartburn and reflux symptoms. While proton pump inhibitors—omeprazole (Prilosec), pantoprazole (Protonix), esomeprazole (Nexium)—and H2 blockers—Zantac, Tagamet, Pepcid—do work, there may be downsides to long term use.

Lifestyle changes are a must: limit acidic foods, eat smaller meals, avoid late night eating, keep the head of your bed elevated—but is there anything else you can take for heartburn and reflux? Here are ten common complementary and alternative therapies used for heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux:

  1. Probiotic supplements. Probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus acidophilus are commonly used for heartburn and reflux symptoms. Probiotics or “friendly” bacteria may help maintain a balance in the digestive system between good and harmful bacteria. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis have the best evidence in their favor so look for those ingredients in your probiotic supplement.
  2. Aloe vera. Evidence has shown that two tablespoons up to three times a day of both aloe vera juice and syrup may improve heartburn. In one study, the effectiveness of aloe vera was comparable to those of the standard drugs ranitidine and omeprazole in relation to most symptoms. Aloe vera is readily available and may provide a safe and effective treatment for reducing the symptoms of GERD. Worth a try.
  3. Probiotic drinks such as kefir and liquid yogurts. Examples are GoodBelly, Wallaby or Lifeway. While there are numerous studies on irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and probiotic drinks, none have focused exclusively on heartburn or reflux. Having said that, a daily serving of a probiotic drink may result in changes in gut bacteria and improve heartburn and reflux symptoms.
  4. Prebiotics. Many beneficial effects on the gut have been associated with prebiotic use. What is a prebiotic? Dietary prebiotics are carbs that cannot be digested by the body but are “food” for probiotics. Prebiotics induce favourable changes in the intestinal bacteria. Prebiotic fiber supplements and powders are available including fructooligosaccharides, such as inulin and galactooligosaccharides. Including prebiotics in your diet with bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and whole-wheat foods is a must.
  5. Iberogast (STW-5) liquid. Easily available online or at Whole Foods, Iberogast has been shown to improve heartburn and reflux symptoms. Iberogast is an herbal preparation containing extracts from bitter candy tuft, chamomile flower, peppermint leaves, caraway fruit, licorice root, lemon balm leaves, angelica root, celandine herbs and milk thistle fruit (whew!). Folks taking it daily (20 drops a day) for 4 weeks were found to have significantly improved symptoms over those who did nothing.
  6. Lactaid or digestive enzyme. While there are studies using Lactaid in infants for colic symptoms, Lactase enzyme supplement has not been well studied for heartburn, constipation or reflux in “normal” subjects. Having said that, lactose in dairy products is maldigested by up to 70% of the world’s population– and many people may therefore suffer symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome (bloating, pain, abdominal distention). Worth a try.
  7. Papaya preparation (Caricol). Made from the pulp of tree ripened papaya, Caricol is used as a natural remedy in abnormal digestion in tropical and industrialized countries. Studies have revealed that giving people 20 milliliters (mL) of Caricol daily for 40 days resulted in improvement in constipation, bloating and heartburn. Also worth a try.
  8. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon). Preliminary research suggests cranberry juice may inhibit H. pylori growth in the stomach. H. Pylori is the bacteria that is a common cause of heartburn symptoms and peptic ulcer disease. Adding cranberry juice to a standard regimen against H Pylori resulted in higher success rates. So, for heartburn and reflux it may be worth a try.
  9. Sodium Bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate is baking soda. Alka Seltzer is a common over-the-counter example that helps neutralize stomach acid. Worth a shot for heartburn symptoms.
  10. Silicol gel. Silicol gel is a compound of silicon + oxygen. Used for skin, hair and nails, there is little scientific evidence on silicol gel and the gut, but people are still trying it for heartburn, bloating and abdominal cramping. Silicon bound to oxygen is water-soluble, absorbable, and may potentially have biological activity that helps the gut.

Dr O.


Efficacy and safety of Aloe vera syrup for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease: a pilot randomized positive-controlled trial. Panahi, Yunes Y. Journal of traditional Chinese medicine 12/2015 Volume: 35 Issue: 6

A mixture of trans-galactooligosaccharides reduces markers of metabolic syndrome and modulates the fecal microbiota and immune function of overweight adults. J. Vulevic, A. Juric, G. Tzortzis, G.R. Gibson J Nutr, 143 (2013), pp. 324–331

Silicon: the health benefits of a metalloid. Martin, Keith R KR. Interrelations between Essential Metal Ions and Human Diseases

Redefining lactose as a conditional prebiotic. Szilagyi A1. Can J Gastroenterol. 2004 Mar;18(3):163-7.

A plant extract and its modified preparation in functional dyspepsia. Results of a double-blind placebo controlled comparative study. Madisch A1, Melderis H, Mayr G, Sassin I, Hotz J. Z Gastroenterol. 2001 Jul;39(7):511-7.

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