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Heartburn Headaches: Taming the Flame of Acid Reflux

Updated: Jul 2

This article was published in 6 issues of the July 2024 edition of Best Version Media's print publications.


Acid-blocking drugs, like PPIs (Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec), are among the most prescribed medications in the country. 1 But why are we suffering from reflux? Let’s dig into the root causes and see how functional medicine can help.


Getting to the Root Cause of Reflux


It used to be thought that heartburn was caused by too much stomach acid, which led to the prevalence of acid-reducing medications. However, we now know that heartburn is most often caused by too little stomach acid. Without enough acid, food sits in the stomach too long or the valve between the stomach and esophagus doesn’t function properly, allowing contents to rise into the esophagus. 1,2


Other heartburn triggering factors can be:

- Eating right before bed

- Eating with an already full stomach

- Being overweight

- Chronic stress

- Magnesium deficiency

- Undiagnosed food sensitivities (like gluten and dairy)

- Bad bacteria or yeast in the gut

- H. pylori infection

- Medications like heart medications, antidepressants and NSAIDs.


Correcting Your Acid Reflux at Its Source


In Functional Medicine, we ask, “Why is this problem happening, and how do we correct it?” The key isn’t just taking acid blockers or chewing chalky tablets, but rather treating the cause of why it’s happening. Here are some actions you can take:


1. Tame the Flame: “In the moment” treatments

   - Aloe Vera Juice: Try 2–4 ounces diluted in a little water to soothe your esophagus.

   - Herbal Helpers: Slippery elm, marshmallow root, and fennel tea can provide relief.


2. Tweak Your Diet:

   - Avoid Trigger Foods: Steer clear of fatty (especially fried) foods, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.

   - Eat Smaller Meals: Big meals can be tough on the valve that keeps food in your stomach. Smaller, frequent meals are easier to handle.

   - Go Green: Load up on vegetables.

   - Avoid Ice-Cold Drinks: They can make symptoms worse.

   - Temporary Avoidance: Skip chocolate, citrus, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and peppermint if symptoms flare up.


3. Supplement Wisely:

   - Probiotics: Keep your digestive system happy. 3

   - Apple Cider Vinegar: A tablespoon in water helps balance stomach acid.

   - Nutrients: Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and zinc help heal the esophageal lining. 4, 5


4. Lifestyle Changes:

   - Don’t Eat Three Hours Before Bed: Give your body time to digest before lying down.

   - Manage Stress: Techniques like deep breathing before meals can help.

   - Eat Slowly: Give your body a chance to digest the food properly and avoid overeating.

   - Stay Hydrated: Drink water throughout the day, but not too much during meals.


Get a Functional Medicine Perspective


Add a functional medicine practitioner to your healthcare team to address the root causes of your health issues. They can provide personalized advice and a tailored plan, which may include supplements like DGL (licorice), probiotics, or digestive enzymes, and help uncover underlying issues like H. pylori, gluten sensitivities, and gut bacteria imbalances.


Managing GERD doesn’t have to be a hassle. With a few lifestyle tweaks and the right support, you can keep heartburn at bay and improve your overall well-being.

Always consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice and say goodbye to headaches over heartburn!



Photo Credits: Danielle Barnum Photography.

Cara Merak is the owner of Unscripted Clinic in Newcastle, Washington. She

champions a holistic healthcare approach, prioritizes identifying and

addressing the root causes of health issues and sharing them with her community on and Instagram. @UnscriptedClinic. She welcomes requests to cover specific topics and can be emailed at

If you are looking for personalized health support,

we highly recommend, contacting the Unscripted Clinic or


1. Shaqran, T. M., Ismaeel, M. M., Alnuaman, A. A., Al Ahmad, F. A., Albalawi, G. A., Almubarak, J. N., AlHarbi, R. S., Alaqidi, R. S., AlAli, Y. A., Alfawaz, K. S., & Daghriri, A. A. (2023). Epidemiology, causes, and management of gastro-esophageal reflux disease: A systematic review. *Cureus, 15*(10), e47420.

2. University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine. (n.d.). Heartburn and GERD: Overview and treatment options. Retrieved from

3. Kresser, C. (2019, June 6). Are probiotics useless? A microbiome researcher’s perspective. Retrieved from

4. Schulz, R. M., Ahuja, N. K., & Slavin, J. L. (2022). Effectiveness of nutritional ingredients on upper gastrointestinal conditions and symptoms: A narrative review. *Nutrients, 14*(3), 672.

5. Herdiana, Y. (2023). Functional food in relation to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). *Nutrients, 15*(16), 3583.



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