Do you suffer with heartburn? And is it especially bad after big meals and parties? Heartburn, or acid reflux, is an extremely common health problem. Research shows that at least 2.5 million South Africans experience heartburn every day and end up popping antacids to find relief. That figure soars in the holiday season.

But there are easier and more natural solutions to the burn.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is the trademark symptom of acid reflux. It’s a burning sensation behind your breastbone that sometimes travels up your throat. In some cases, this pain can be severe enough to be mistaken for a heart attack. Heartburn has nothing to do with your heart.

What causes heartburn?

It is commonly believed that acid reflux is caused by excessive amounts of acid in your stomach, which is why acid-blocking drugs are the popular treatment. But that’s simply not true, according to alternative medicine practitioner Dr Joseph Mercola. ‘The problem usually results from having too little acid in your stomach,’ he says. His theory has been regarded with scepticism by the medical profession, who state that heartburn is caused neither by too much or too little stomach acid. However, all agree on one point: the way to avoid heartburn is to keep your gut bacteria balanced.

Before you get heartburn…

Once food has passed into your stomach, a muscular valve called the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) closes, preventing food or acid moving back up. ‘Acid reflux occurs when the LES relaxes inappropriately, allowing acid from your stomach to flow (reflux) backward into your oesophagus,’ Mercola explains. In fact, he goes on, acid reflux is more commonly related to hiatal hernia or an infection caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacteria that has been identified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation). Research is ongoing.

There are other reasons for heartburn: certain prescription and over-the-counter medications such as remedies for anxiety and depression, antibiotics, blood pressure medications, osteoporosis drugs and pain relievers. And medications for heartburn! Yes, these are often proton pump inhibitors, which block acid production in your stomach. According to Mercola, more than 16 000 articles in the medical literature show that ‘suppressing stomach acid does not address the problem. It only temporarily treats the symptoms.’

So how do I get rid of the burn?

You’re trying to restore the balance of natural bacteria in your gut, so start with what you eat. That means:

  • No processed foods and sugars (they really are the enemy of gut health). Instead, eat loads of fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic.
  • Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can trigger an acute attack and can contribute to heartburn. Either reduce or quit these.
  • Probiotics to balance your bowel flora. Probiotics help digestion and, says Mercola, ‘can help eliminate H. pylori bacteria naturally without resorting to antibiotics’. Find natural probiotics in fermented foods such as vegetables (watch our FB posts for instructions on making your own).
  • High-quality sea salt (unprocessed salt), such as Himalayan salt, provides you with the chloride you need to make hydrochloric acid and also contains more than 80 trace minerals that your body requires to perform optimally, biochemically.
  • Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to improve acid levels in your stomach.
  • Aloe juice helps reduce inflammation, which may ease symptoms of acid reflux. Drink about 1/2 cup of aloe vera juice before meals. If you want to avoid aloe’s laxative effect, look for a brand containing no laxative component.
  • Ginger root or chamomile tea. Ginger protects your gastric system by blocking acid and suppressing H. pylori. It also helps prevent the formation of ulcers. Drink ginger tea before meals. A cup of chamomile tea before bed can help soothe stomach inflammation and help you sleep.
  • Vitamin D helps your body produce antimicrobial peptides that help fight any form of infection.
  • Astaxanthin is a potent anti-oxidant that can reduce symptoms of acid reflux.
  • Slippery elm coats and soothes the mucous lining of the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines, helping digestion.
  • Folate or folic acid. Mercola reports that B vitamins can reduce your risk for acid reflux. Eat folate-rich whole foods, such as liver, asparagus, spinach and beans.
  • Avoid foods or drinks that make symptoms worse, huge portions, heavy sauces, gobbling your food and eating or exercising immediately after a large meal. Instead, go for light meals (salads, lean meats and fish), alternate alcoholic drinks with water and eat mindfully, chewing your food properly.

Happy holidays!

Acknowledgements & Photo credits

Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.


  1. Mercola, J. 15 Natural remedies for the treatment of acid reflux and ulcers. Science Daily. June 2014.
  2. Slippery Elm. University of Maryland Medical Center. Reviewed June 2014.

Photo credits

  1. “Stop heartburn” courtesy of Stuart Miles /