Heartburn and reflux: 8 ways to get relief without medication

Heartburn and reflux: 8 ways to get relief without medication

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Alternatives to gastric protection drugs

Almost everyone had felt an uncomfortable burning sensation in their chest after a sumptuous meal, which worsened when they belched open. Around 20 percent of people in western countries regularly struggle with heartburn. If the heartburn occurs particularly often, this could be due to a condition called reflux disease (GERD). A health expert reveals how to manage acid reflux without medication.

Professor Dr. Jacqueline Wolf is a gastroenterologist at Harvard Medical School. She advises on the best methods of how the effects of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease can be alleviated without medication. Small lifestyle changes can have a big impact here.

Gastric protection products sometimes have dangerous side effects

A recent study showed that gastric protection drugs such as proton pump inhibitors (PPI) or gastric acid blockers are among the most commonly used drugs. But stomach protection drugs can have dangerous consequences. Many users ignore the sometimes serious side effects that threaten from long-term use. For example, the drugs promote vitamin B12 deficiency, can trigger allergies, aggravate cirrhosis of the liver and increase the risk of osteoporosis and dementia.

What is behind the burning?

Heartburn occurs when acid escapes from the stomach and enters areas that are not protected from stomach acid. In the case of gastroesophageal reflux disease, the esophageal sphincter no longer works properly. This muscle controls the transition between the esophagus (esophagus) and the stomach. If this muscle does not close completely, the contents of the stomach can penetrate upwards into the esophagus and cause burns, which can be expressed by a burning sensation, sore throat and hoarseness. The following options help to alleviate reflux.

1. Eat slowly and small meals

If the stomach is very full, it can quickly reflux into the esophagus. Those who often suffer from heartburn should try eating several small servings instead of three large meals.

2. Avoid certain foods

Dr. Wolf points out that some foods are more likely to cause reflux than others. It is better to avoid

  • Mint,
  • Foods high in fat,
  • spicy foods,
  • Tomatoes,
  • Onions,
  • Garlic,
  • Coffee,
  • Tea,
  • Chocolate,
  • Alcohol.

3. Avoid carbonation

Carbonated drinks encourage regurgitation on a regular basis. Belching increases the risk of gastric juice rising up with the air from the stomach. Dr. Wolf advises drinking still water instead of sparkling water.

4. Do not lie down after eating

Anyone who has eaten a larger meal should not lie down for around three hours. Because when sitting or standing, gravity helps to keep the acid in the stomach. In the evening, nothing should be eaten three hours before going to bed.

5. Do not make vigorous movements after eating

Performing sports after meals is not a good idea for heartburn, especially if your body includes flexing. This increases the risk of acid leaking from the stomach. A quiet walk, however, is harmless.

6. Sleep lightly upright

With regular heartburn, it is advisable to sleep slightly upright. The head should be about 15 to 20 centimeters higher than the feet. However, Wolf advises against creating this inclination by stacking pillows. At best, the slope should be uniform. This can be achieved with adjustable slatted frames or with special wedge pillows.

7. Reduce excess weight

Increased body weight presses on the abdomen and increases the pressure that the esophageal sphincter has to withstand. With reduced weight, the muscle can also close better and avoid heartburn.

8. Quit smoking

Nicotine from cigarettes or other sources relaxes the esophageal sphincter, making it easier for acid to escape.

If there is no improvement

If these steps prove to be ineffective or if you experience severe pain and difficulty swallowing, you should consult a doctor. Medication may also be required at times to enforce lifestyle changes. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Harvard Health Publishing: 9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication (accessed: October 8, 2019),
  • Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG): Heartburn and Reflux Disease (accessed: October 8, 2019),

Video: Do You Have Acid Reflux or GERD? (October 2022).