What is acid reflux / heartburn?

Understanding your condition

Heartburn and acid reflux are names for the same common condition, where the stomach contents rise up into the oesphagus creating a burning sensation in the delicate oesophageal lining.

The lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) sits above the stomach preventing the stomach contents from rising up into the oesophagus. Relaxation or insufficient closure of the LOS underlies many of the causes and contributing factors of acid reflux which can include some foods, medications, obesity, pregnancy and more.

middle aged woman with acid reflux heartburn pressing palm of hand to upper chest
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Providing an acid reflux natural treatment

An acid reflux functional medicine specialist can help identify and effectively treat the cause, with natural treatments for heartburn / acid reflux that can help you feel your best self again.


Symptoms of acid reflux / heartburn

The most common symptom of heartburn / acid reflux is the burning sensation in the chest area that may radiate upwards.

As this is the most common cause of non-cardiac chest pain, given the serious nature of cardiac chest pain, cardiac related chest pain must always be ruled out first. If unsure, seek urgent medical attention.

Other heartburn symptoms can include:

  • Burning pain / discomfort below the sternum, that may radiate to neck, jaw or sides of chest, may be worse for lying down, bending over, exercise or hunger
  • Pain / discomfort relieved by eating, antacids, or upright position
  • Pain / discomfort or difficulty on swallowing
  • Sour taste in the back of the throat
  • Feeling of fullness or lump at the back of the throat
  • Cough, bronchospasm, wheezing
  • Feeling full after eating very little
  • Regurgitation
  • Laryngitis, hoarse voice
  • Indigestion (dyspepsia) describes general discomfort felt in the upper abdomen and may be due to acid reflux, or a number of other digestive conditions such as nausea, gas or feeling too full.

What is the difference between acid reflux, heartburn and GORD / GERD?

Acid reflux and heartburn are interchangeable names for the same condition. When repeated reflux events cause irritation to the oesophagus, then the term gastroesophageal reflux disease (medical abbreviation GERD)or alternatively, gastro-oesophageal reflux (medical abbreviation GORD) is used.

If left untreated, GERD/GORD can rupture the oesophagus lining, leading to more serious conditions.

What causes acid reflux / heartburn?

There are a variety of causes of acid reflux / heartburn, which include:

  • Acid producing foods, highly processed fast foods
  • Fried foods, spicy foods, fatty foods
  • Food intolerances / allergies - particularly gluten and dairy. In children, reflux is commonly associated with dairy allergy
  • Suboptimal diet - low levels of necessary nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and B vitamins required for healthy digestion. Highly processed, refined carbohydrates and sugar can stimulate high gastric secretions with no fats, fibre or protein to buffer.
  • Alcohol - consumption can significantly disrupt the microbiome, altering the pH of the gut, and creates acidity
  • Caffeine
  • Delayed gastric emptying - structural dysfunction, low peristaltic action, peptic stricture, poor digestion
  • Smoking - slows digestion and gastric emptying, relaxes LOS
  • Medications - NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen, aspirin), antibiotics, progesterone, calcium channel blockers, some iron supplements, asthma medications, and long term PPI use
  • Low (LOS) lower oesophageal sphincter function - can be genetic, structural, or associated with low acid production
  • Eating directly before bed
  • Overeating
  • Chronic stress - which affects the nervous system, inhibiting digestive processes, causing alteration in the pH of the gut, and preventing proper digestion of food
  • Low magnesium status - magnesium is a cofactor for over 300 enzymatic processes, including stress resilience and muscle control for (LOS) sphincter. Around 80% of people are magnesium deficient
  • Low zinc status - zinc is necessary for hydrochloric acid (HCl) secretion in the stomach, and low HCl acid inhibits zinc absorption
  • Microbiome dysbiosis, SIBO - disruption to the diversity and make up of species can alter pH of the gut, and in SIBO, dysbiosis occurs much higher up in the small intestines disrupting digestion
  • Low stomach acid - a healthy level of stomach acid is necessary to digest food, allowing it to continue through the digestive tract. Clinical experience of our functional medicine acid reflux specialists is that the majority of reflux patients also have low stomach acid
  • High stomach acid - associated with acid producing foods, and poor gastric emptying means acid reaching the oesophagus is more easily damaged
  • Older age - studies show an increase proportionally with age of oesophageal exposure to acid, reduced gastric motility (movement of food through the digestive tract)
  • H. pylori - a species of bacteria associated with gastric ulcers, gastric carcinoma and acid reflux. The subject of Helicobacter pylori and its role in acid reflux is still being debated, and is looking more complex than first thought
  • Pregnancy - the LOS relaxes due to hormones relaxin and progesterone, and the physical size of baby can also push organs and contents up
  • Overweight / obesity
  • Hiatus hernia presence

Left untreated, the constant irritation of acid reflux can cause oesophagitis, ulceration, bleeding and strictures or the condition Barrett's oesophagus, an alteration to the cells of the oesophagus with a strong association to oesophageal cancer.

Gastric ulcers are associated with the presence of H.pylori, reflux and long term use of PPI medications.

Long term untreated oesophagitis may also lead to gastrointestinal bleeding, anaemia and hematemesis (vomiting blood), coffee-ground emesis (vomiting blood with granular appearance), melena (dark, sticky blood in stool) and haematochezia (bright blood in stool).

What causes eczema?


Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.

These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.

Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected. 

Food allergy and sensitivity

Food hypersensitivity has been found to cause or exacerbate atopic dermatitis in 10-30% of cases, and 90% of these are caused by eggs, milk, peanuts, soy and wheat.

Compromised gut health

The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.

Nutritional deficiencies

Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).

Weather and environment

Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.


Hormones also play a role in the course of atopic dermatitis, including the stress hormone cortisol which triggers an inflammatory immune response affecting all organs of the body, including the skin.

Mould exposure

Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.

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Treatment for acid reflux / heartburn - the conventional approach

A combined increase in prevalence and a decrease of intensity of symptoms can often lead to an acid reflux diagnosis after suspected cardiac pain in emergency settings. Ensuring the pain is not cardiac related is imperative to be excluded first.

Once this is established, diagnosis is made via one or a combination of symptom presentation, endoscopy, ambulatory reflux monitoring, or via a positive response to acid reducing medication. Recommendations may be made by your GP to reduce the incidence of reflux symptoms, such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Not eating meals close to bedtime
  • Stopping spicy/trigger food consumption
  • Reducing/or quitting coffee or alcohol and smoking
  • Waiting for the reflux to pass
  • And over the counter antacid medications

They may prescribe medications such as H2 receptor blockers (Zantac) or proton pump inhibitors (Nexium, Somac, Suvacid) which reduce the stomach’s ability to produce acid. Treatment for H.pylori may also be administered. These medications have been prescribed since the early 1990’s, and are in the top 10 Australian prescribed drugs, with an increased use of 1300% from 1995 to 2006. Australian GPs are recommended to limit prescriptions for these medications, as long term use of PPIs is not recommended by the drugs’  manufacturers and is linked to increased risks of:

Many people seek more natural treatments for acid reflux to avoid these significant side effects. Our acid reflux functional medicine specialists at Melbourne Functional Medicine can help bring effective long term relief with natural remedies for heartburn and a personalised approach.

Natural remedies for acid reflux / heartburn - the functional medicine approach

Functional medicine uses evidence based methods, combined with precision testing and detailed case history taking to determine the root cause of your symptoms. As holistic practitioners at Melbourne Functional Medicine who specialise in naturopathic medicine for acid reflux, we will investigate which organs and systems may be involved in causing your symptoms. Our practitioners will take time to gather information about:

  • Your symptom picture
  • Your family and genetic history
  • Your medical history
  • Medications and supplements
  • Environmental exposures
  • Diet and lifestyle

Acid reflux functional medicine specialists often find that low gastric acid is common in reflux / heartburn in both medicated and non-medicated patients. Functional testing via an at home testing kit will identify if low gastric acid is present to get a better understanding of the digestive symptom picture.

Equally, if H. pylori is present, functional gut testing such as the GI Map or GI 360 test may be requested. This state of the art testing will isolate via DNA PCR a far more accurate test than culturing to determine H. pylori’s presence.

Other functional testing may be required to identify:

Treatments will vary according to the underlying causes, but may include:

  • Dietary recommendations to eliminate food intolerances, trigger foods and improve nutrient status
  • Mindful eating, meal timing
  • Supplements to promote healthy digestion - betaine hydrochloride, digestive enzymes, slippery elm powder, fibre supplements, and for mucosal repair - zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, magnesium
  • Herbal medicines for mucosal repair / anti inflammatory herbs such as meadowsweet, calendula, licorice, turmeric, marshmallow, and aloe
  • Herbal antacids such as meadowsweet, slippery elm powder, alfalfa
  • Digestive stimulants to improve gastric emptying like gentian & ginger
  • Anti-pathogenic herbs such as pomegranate husk, garlic, turmeric, berberine
  • Other herbs or natural remedies for heartburn as required e.g. anti anxiety, detoxification, bile production and tone/repair of LOS, and oesophageal lining
  • Precision probiotics to facilitate a diverse and healthy microbiome
  • Fibre supplementation (prebiotics) to maintain a healthy microbiome, and enhance digestive emptying
  • Lifestyle medicine such as stress resilience techniques - meditation, mindfulness, Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing)
  • Strategies to decrease weight, improve sleep, quit smoking and alcohol

Our cutting edge healthcare program gives you all you need to get well again, with ongoing support and guidance from a practitioner and a health coach. Your practitioner will create a comprehensive, personalised plan for you to follow, and your coach will inspire, educate, empower and support you along the way. This approach has helped so many Australians make the changes they need to feel great again.

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See how functional medicine is helping our patients achieve better health and richer lives.

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What is GORD? What is GORD / GERD in medical terms? Is GORD serious?

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, or GORD as it’s commonly known, is also known by the alternate spelling of esophagus (GERD).

GORD/GERD is the consequence of long term symptoms of reflux, also known as heartburn. Chronic episodes of reflux are due to the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS), located just above the stomach being too relaxed, or not closing appropriately and allowing the stomach’s contents to rise. There are a variety of reasons why the LOS may not close properly, such as obesity, food triggers, medications, stress, pregnancy, genetically inherited LOS weakness, or digestive disorders such as SIBO, or dysbiosis.

If left untreated it can be serious, causing inflammation and damage to the oesophagus, and may lead to Barrett's oesophagus, a condition strongly linked to a risk of oesophageal cancer.

For effective, safe, naturopath acid reflux treatments available from acid reflux functional medicine practitioners, see details above.

What is the best sleeping position for acid reflux?

Sleeping on your left side can provide some temporary relief as it can improve the lower oesophageal sphincter closing and reduce reflux episodes. 

Raising your head above your feet by propping the bed with pillows under the mattress, or 10-12 cm blocks under the head of the bed, may also help.

Naturopathic medicine for acid reflux, delivered by functional medicine trained heartburn specialists can provide you with a personalised program to relieve your acid reflux for good.

How to stop heartburn / reflux?

Addressing the cause of the heartburn is the most effective way to stop heartburn / reflux.

Natural acid reflux treatments from heartburn functional medicine specialist practitioners may include herbal, lifestyle, dietary, and supplemental medicines. As holistic practitioners, they will first identify the root cause, then tailor a personalised prescription to treat the whole person, not just the symptoms.

Once the cause and contributing factors are identified for your heartburn, functional medicine practitioners will prescribe natural remedies for heartburn such as slippery elm powder for relief of burning pain, herbs to improve digestion, increase diversity and make up of gut flora species, and reduce inflammation - depending on what you require.

Lifestyle medicine to improve stress resilience, such as regular meditation / mindfulness, or forest bathing may be required.

Dietary changes may follow functional testing to address food intolerances or allergies, nutritional deficiencies or gut dysbiosis.

Can parasites cause acid reflux?

Some parasites can cause acid reflux. The most often associated pathogen is Helicobacter pylori which is known to alter the gastric secretions of the stomach to enable it to proliferate. It is also associated with gastric ulcers and some cancers, however there is debate on whether or not it is one of our ancient ‘commensal’ species (i.e. one of our usual bacterial species), that can become problematic when allowed to proliferate.

Also associated with acid reflux / heartburn is the strongyloides worm, B. coli, S. stercoralis, A. lumbricoides, N. americanus /A. duodenale, T. solium / saginata and H. nana. Many of these species are not found commonly in Australia.

What foods help acid reflux go away? Is ginger good for acid reflux? Is green tea good for acid reflux?

Ginger may or may not help, depending on the cause of the reflux, and the same can be said for green tea. Both may provide relief or potentially can make it worse. It will depend on whether you have too much, or too little stomach acid - and either can be present in acid reflux / heartburn.

Identifying the root cause of the reflux will help to determine the most effective natural heartburn remedy, to avoid you from taking a remedy that makes it worse.

Slippery elm powder mixed in a large glass of water can often provide temporary relief from reflux, however ensure that you are drinking plenty of water with any fibre supplement to prevent constipation.

Heartburn functional medicine practitioners can assist you by determining the cause of your reflux, and prescribing the appropriate treatments. Every person is different, and so treatment should reflect this.

Is there a heartburn specialist near me?

Yes! There is a heartburn functional medicine practitioner near you in Melbourne, Australia.

We also offer telehealth consults if you aren’t able to make it to our beautiful clinic space in South Melbourne.

All of our naturopaths are functional medicine trained digestive specialists and will assist you with effective, evidence based natural treatments for acid reflux / heartburn and GORD / GERD.

What does burping after eating mean? What does heartburn feel like?

Burping can be a consequence of eating too fast (gulping extra air), drinking carbonated drinks, eating foods that you have intolerances to, from intestinal parasites or from acid reflux / heartburn.

Heartburn is often a burning sensation in the upper abdomen, often central and below the sternum. It occurs after eating, and is often worse with exertion, laying down, and bending over. It is more common in obesity, pregnancy, and a variety of causes and conditions (see above).

Heartburn symptoms can vary from person to person, and it’s important to rule out heart symptoms, first. If in doubt seek immediate medical assistance.

What is a natural treatment for acid reflux, heartburn or GORD/GERD?

3 teaspoons of slippery elm powder mixed well in a glass of water and drunk quickly will provide symptom relief - however, this will not treat the cause. Ensure to drink plenty of water to avoid constipation with any fibre supplement.

Have you thought of seeing a GORD / GERD naturopath? Acid reflux can be treated effectively and safely by functional medicine acid reflux specialist practitioners, who are functional medicine trained naturopaths. They will first identify the root cause of the condition, which will then direct the treatment. Heartburn treatment may include lifestyle medicine, herbal medicines and supplements to support the lining of the oesophagus, reduce inflammation and provide symptomatic relief.

To reduce inflammation and improve the gastric mucosal lining, herbs such as turmeric, licorice, slippery elm powder, and boswellia may be helpful.

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Reach out to the team directly – we’ll be happy to assist.