GERD Sufferers Rejoice!

This story comes from reader Melissa. Her personal tale of going Primal was sent in during this season’s Primal Blueprint Health Challenge. She is the first of four entrants that will be part of the first round of drawings for the ongoing Primal Blueprint Real Life Stories contest. If you have a Primal story that you would like to share visit this page for all the details!

Reading all the amazing stories this week, I’m so impressed with all the weight people have lost because of primal living. My own story isn’t about dramatic weight loss, but underscores that the primal diet can address a variety of health problems caused by our modern diets.

I’ve always had a weak stomach. Growing up, stomach aches and pains were a daily nuisance. They became more than a nuisance when I went to college and started suffering from crippling heart burn. It gnawed in my chest nearly all day and night. Unable to sleep or study, I went to the student health center where I was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). I started on mild H2 inhibitors, which reduce acid production and tried to get healthier by plodding on the treadmill for hours and replacing my normal diet of pizza with some whole grains.

As you can probably guess, this didn’t solve much and soon enough I was feeling my stomach acid gurgling back up to where it didn’t belong. My doctor put my on Prilosec, a proton-pump inhibitor, which eliminates most stomach acid. Finally I could once again load up my plate in the dining hall with cheesecake, fried hot wings, nachos, and ice cream floats.

But it didn’t make me happy. I gained 25 lbs and soon enough food was a souce of guilt for me. I would play games in my head, trading the chocolate cake I was about to eat for an unhappy hour on a stair machine. To my horror, the acid reflux started coming back and along with it, even worse other stomach problems. I was diagnosed with IBS and resolved once again to eat healthier, but every day I felt weaker and weaker. One morning as I left my dorm room, I collapsed and ended up in the E.R. It was there that I was finally diagnosed with a nasty case of chronic salmonella.

Chronic salmonella is something that is usually seen in the elderly immunocompromised, not healthy twenty year olds. I realized that stomach acid is there for a reason. It helps us digest food, of course, but it also protects us from pathogens. I wanted mine back, but I also didn’t want to be in pain all the time.

I actually first learned about the Primal diet from a class I was taking on food history, where I read Jared Diamond’s The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. I was floored; here was an essay by an incredibly intelligent scientist saying that humans had been much healthier before we discovered agriculture. Poking around on the web, I discovered lots of interesting sites about eating like these healthy ancestors and I gave it a try.

I certainly didn’t stop having heartburn overnight, but I stuck with eating Primal and GERD has been gone for over two years now. More than that though, the Primal diet has changed the way I think. I’ve read so many interesting books about anthropology and learned how to cook delicious fresh vegetables and grass-fed meats. I went from Doritos addict to farmer’s market fanatic and now I work connecting people to local healthy food.

I now view exercise not as a chore, but as a way of life. I take the long way home, winding through a forest and climbing over large rocks. At the farmer’s market I pick out the biggest watermelons and lift them high over my head as I carry them a few miles home. I’ve lost all the weight I gained my freshman year and it’s not coming back any time soon.

Last year I traveled around Europe, which I never could have done with the stomach problems I used to suffer from. I highly recommend the pork knuckles in Krakow and the very fatty Mangalica pork in Hungary to Primal travelers.

My father was so impressed with my results and The Primal Blueprint that he is now eating Primal and has lost 30 pounds and also eliminated GERD! There’s not that much out there for GERD sufferers about the role of diet, so I hope others will hear my story and give this diet change a try. The Prilosec website recommends a low-fat diet….probably helps boost their sales!

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67 thoughts on “GERD Sufferers Rejoice!”

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  1. Those birds in the oven and the pork are making me drool. Great story! It still amazes me to hear that peoples lives can totally be changed based primarily on changing their diets.

  2. My husband was never diagnosed with GERD, but his dad was, and we guessed that he had it in a milder, on-again-off-again form. (Burning, gagging sensation in throat, etc.)

    It was shortly after I stopped buying bread and cereal that he noticed he didn’t have the problem anymore!

    Kind of obvious in hindsight, isn’t it? Gotta love those “duh” moments.

    I’m off to look up that essay by Jared Diamond; never heard of it!

  3. Great story. Another great example of med v. food. Would you rather be hooked on expensive prescriptive medications forever, or tasty tasty pig knuckles forever? I’ll take the pig knuckles.

  4. Loved reading this! Definitely going to pass it along to a couple family members who have stomach issues. If it can so greatly help your GERD, i would think it could help their (less serious??) stomach irritations. Congratulations on your accomplishment, and to your dad!

  5. I was a GERD sufferer as well. Terrible heart burn that felt like a knife was being twisted in my chest. Shortly after going primal, it never happened again. Well not never, whenever I fall of the wagon it comes back enough to remind me that I need to get my stuff together and get primal again.

    Since going primal on 19NOV08 I have dropped 45 pounds, don’t have GERD, gut problems are gone.

    Can’t beat it.

  6. Good for you, Melissa! It’s amazing how many “medical professionals” don’t realize that digestive issues could be (and usually are) 100% related to the food we’re eating. I’m just glad you took matters into your own hands, and made the change. You look much healthier and happier now!

    And I agree – those are some good lookin’ chickens.

    1. Oh come on – do you really think *digestion* and *food* might be related? That’s so silly. Everyone knows digestion problems are caused by a lack of pharmaceuticals.

      1. It’s true, don’tcha know. They recently added “Prilosec deficiency” to the ICD-9.

  7. Brilliant to hear this kind of success over illness solely from diet/lifestyle change.

    Let food be your medicine. Let medicine be your food. Hippocrates was right all along? 🙂

  8. Student teacher here (history), I’m gonna have to make a lesson plan involving that Jared Diamond paper.

  9. Another former GERD sufferer here. After years of GERD, I went low-carb to lose some weight and I lost the GERD, too.

    When I told my gastro doc that I felt better since I cut grains from my diet, he looked at me like I was daft…

    Great post!

  10. Hope you don’t mind me saying this, but you do look adorable. And your story is inspiring.

  11. I really love hearing these success stories! It’s great to see the range of ailments that the primal diet is the cure for… I only wish I could get my father on it. He is 79 and had a heart attack last year. The doctors have him so afraid of red meat and saturated fat that he is worried about me now. At least I’ve got him off sugar…
    Thanks Melissa! keep it up

  12. My wife has GERD as well, due to a minor birth defect. While paleo/primal never completely erased her heartburn, I can tell you that her antacid use dropped from a handful a day to only a couple of tablets a day after a few months of eating caveman-style.

  13. I am another reflux sufferer that has suppressed symptoms from eating paleo.

    I found out earlier what proton-pump inhibitors cand do to long term health and still wonder how these things are part of a “health” system.

    I’ve also fixed other auto-immune issues. Paleo all the way!

  14. Mark, congrats on the great job you’re doing – singlehandedly reducing America’s health care costs! I just have one concern. Some of these folks, who see dramatic improvements in their health, should be tested for celiac because not eating wheat is not enough and the 80/20 rule is a really bad idea in that case.

    Celiac is seriously under-diagnosed and celiacs can be skinny, obese and everything in-between. Plenty of celiacs are asymptomatic or have just one symptom – like GERD. Or they don’t realize they had symptoms until they’ve been eating GF for awhile and then it is too late to be tested accurately without a gluten “challenge” which can be at best, very unpleasant.

    One of the big celiac groups has an awareness month in October – could you highlight this issue?

  15. Hey, Melissa here! Thanks for all the great comments! I feel honored to be posted here and to spread the word that GERD doesn’t have to torture you forever! And I thank Mark for bringing together all sorts of great resources on the site and in the new book.

    I do agree about being tested for celiac. GERD is not the most typical symptom, but in my research I’ve found it’s relatively common among celiacs, so the test is probably a good idea. I did get tested when I was still eating bread and it was thankfully negative, but I’m glad I took the test.

    There are a lot of theories about what causes it and it amazes me that there are so few studies connecting foods to GERD. The ones out there tend to blame fat, but in my opinion chasing after macronutrients to blame is a dumb idea. Soybean oil and lard are both fats, but I think everyone here knows they have different effects.

  16. Awesome story and just goes to show how much diet affects health. I never was diagnosed officially with GERD but had most the symptoms, they are now gone since eating primal!

  17. wow. will docs ever understand the role diet plays? for me, the first sign of a problem with my diet is ear pain . docs are incredulous but i know what it means–too many carbs.

    1. This makes sense, except that I’d blame the grains in particular, not carbs in general (see Don’s post about tubers on his Primal Wisdom blog). Grains — gluten in particular — promote inflammation, which can manifest as clogged and painful ears, stuffy nose, sore throat, aching joints, puffy gums that bleed when brushed and flossed, swollen belly and bloating around the waist, baggy eyes and saggy face, & the list goes on and on.

      1. Grass allergy is a common allergy… and wheat is a grass. I’m stunned the CW hasn’t made the connection.

        1. I am allergic to grass and I eat foods with wheat ingredients. I had no idea it was even a grass. Right now I have esophagitis due to the GERD and don’t know if it is too late to go primal to help me in the long run.

  18. There are probably a lot of us, but part of my story is almost exactly the same as yours! Couldn’t have written it better myself 😉

  19. I ate primal for a few months and I STILL have GERD. Maybe this works for some people, but definitely not all.

    1. Me too. In fact, I only developed GERD after going primal. I don’t blame my diet, but clearly something else is going on.

  20. Great experience and keep connecting people to local resources. Eventually people will start to learn that healthy living is the result of natural foods, not medicine.

  21. I am now on a mostly primal diet, but my GERD completely resolved 6 years ago when I removed all gluten grains – wheat, barley and rye. I have to be very careful about watching for hidden gluten in foods, medications and other products. Cross contamination of foods with gluten is a problem when eating away from home. Taking all these precautions is worth the effort as my health greatly improved when I went gluten free. I have enjoyed even more improvements when I stopped eating all grains.

  22. My story is very similar to Melissa’s…I have been on Prilosec for 6 years now for GERD. On the rare occasion that I went off of it the GERD always returned within a day or two. I have been eating Primal for four weeks now and have been Prilosec-less for the last two…no GERD. As a result I can sleep through the night without waking up with heartburn and without Prilosec…another plus.

  23. Hi. I suffered from GERD also along with other health issues in my teens to early 20’s. (I’m 29 now). I had heart palpitations, bad chol, blood pressure and I was skinny. I even lost about 20lbs when I had GERD. All I would do is barely eat and if I did, I would also throw up. Weird issues. Now, I am healthier than ever before in my life thanks to eating whole foods and getting rid of junk. Yes, I too was the everyday pizza eater.

  24. “I ate primal for a few months and I STILL have GERD. Maybe this works for some people, but definitely not all.”

    It took mine about 5 months to really clear up. Damaged stomach linings with chronic inflammation need time to repair…

    I also ate very gently during that time. For a week I ate only eggs. After that I made lots of bone broths, different types of soups, and some smoothies. I supplemented with omega-3 and L-Lysine. I didn’t eat a lot of stimulating foods like nightshades, alliums, or caffeine. I also added lemon juice to lots of things I cooked because I read lots of GERD sufferers actually don’t have enough stomach acid.

    Incidentally, I did try Betaine HCL, which works well for some people with GERD, but it just made me feel bloated.

    I now eat pretty normally (even some really spicy things), but I’m very aware of what is going on in my stomach and it takes some time to develop that awareness. The Primal/paleo diet is very much one that you have to approach with an open mind to tweaking and continuously learning more about the science and your own body.

    I firmly believe that GERD is the product of long-term stomach damage and while healing it is a battle, it’s worth it to have a nice stomach full of properly behaving acid.

  25. As others have said it was quite likely gluten grains that caused the GERD. Dr Rodney Ford – a paediatric gastroenterologist and allergy specialist has been testing kids and adults with a host of health problems and has found in clinical blood tests that 1 in 10 people are gluten sensitive. This is FAR more than the 1 in 100 that are gluten intolerant (Celiac). Gluten sensitivity is measured by the gliadin antibody test IgG-gliadin. His book on gluten sensitivity is brilliant. He is (compared to other mainstream doctors) really out there in his thinking. He theorises that when you are gluten sensitive the main effects of it are nerve damage, which is why health problems effect so many of the bodies systems.

    Here is his website – I highly recommend his books on gluten sensitivity and curing eczema. It gives a new insight on how new world foods are causing health problems.

  26. Melissa, I loved your story. I had the same experience some years back. I’d been on medication for 3 years but still suffered horrible pain. Finally a naturopath introduced me to Mary Enig’s work. (I found MDA later.) Within a few months my GERD subsided, and the problems haven’t returned (with the exception of my off-the-wagon times).
    As for those people who have had continuing problems, NPR had an article about acid “rebound.” It seems that after people go off of their medications, stomach acid is produced at very high rates but levels off over time.

  27. Hmm! I’ve suffered from GERD for 12 years. My trigger foods are definitely not the ones that the docs have told me to avoid. Thankfully I can eat spicy foods all day long with no problems. I’ve cut way back on grains since learning earlier this year that I’m pre-diabetic. I haven’t gone full primal, but it may be worth giving it a shot to see if I can take one less pill.

  28. Not only did 25 years of GERD and my meds go away in 2 months, but I can eat chocolate (98%), tomatoes and soups and have no GERD. These foods guarenteed GERD in the past.
    No more pacing at night holding my chest !

  29. Great story Melissa. I to suffer from GERD but I wonder if there is a few other things in my lifestyle that caused that: homebrew, dairy, beta blockers, stress!

    So am I getting that after a period of Grok like eating you’ve become GERD free? Did you just stop taking meds or were you able to convince a physician to get you off of them?

  30. After reading this, I decided to stop taking my PPI for a while and see what happens. I can always re-start if the problems return, but it’s possible I don’t need the meds any more.

  31. This is very encouraging for me to hear. I also have issues with stomach acid. It causes my esophagus to close at the entrance to my stomach. Which means I can only half swallow sometimes. Very awkward and sometimes very painful.

    I’ve been living primal for only three weeks and I’ve already noticed it happening less and less.

    A few years back when this landed me in the emergency room the G.I. Doc told me to take Prilosec everyday for the rest of my life. That did not fit into my lifestyle even before discovering primal living. I am very hopeful that I am now on the right track with this primal life I’ve discovered.

  32. Add me to the list. My worst GERD was about five years ago and I was on something or other. It seemed to decline, I can’t say why, but it would pop up from time to time.

    Primal for three months and I think, I can’t even be sure, I’ve had one episode.

  33. You look so amazing, happy and healthy in that picture with the chickens! Good for you! (Loved the before photo with the baked good in your hand, too)

  34. My GERD was so bad that I needed to sleep sitting up, and was using prilosec twice a day. I am two months into the primal diet and my GERD is gone. It’s amazing to be able to sleep while laying down! Not to mention my risk for esophageal erosion, GI bleeding and esophageal cancer have now dropped dramatically.

    I thought it was due to my weight, but I am still classified as morbidly obese and am symptom free. There needs to be research done into diet change and GERD, so doctors will start recommending this diet to sufferers of this condition. It has changed my life.

  35. This is awesome. I also went from being on PPIs to no meds and no more GERD by severely limiting carbs and sugar in my diet. When I slip up, it comes right back.

    And I too work to connect people to local food! Really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing your story.

  36. Hi there- My husband was diagnosed with reflux. He’s on a fairly strong medication. He’s seeing a naturopath, and we’re hoping to wean him off the meds. Here’s my concern with this diet- he’s already pretty thin. I’m concerned about him losing weight. Do you have any advice on this?

  37. From what I’ve read, people who need to lose weight will and people who are skinny will stay the same or gain some weight – mostly muscle. Be sure he is eating fat for the calories.

  38. I’ve had GERD since I was 9 years old and back then, doctors kept telling me that “Childre year olds don’t get heartburn.” Somebody tell my stomach that! So I’ve been drinking club soda and popping Pepcid for many years straight now!

    I started PB last week, and for the first time in a long time, I’ve gone a whole week without feeling heartburn. Bliss.

  39. Hi Melissa,

    great of you to notice too.

    I’ve been suffering a lot from acid reflux too and I have been on anti-proton medication for a while. Then I studied physics and realised anti-proton was just really really dangerous.

    I’ve been doing the primal diet for two weeks and stomach ache is disappearing slowly but easily. Whatever I eat, I don’t get heart burns. I do not fear standing on my back again.
    It seems getting rid of the grains is doing me a lot of good. So thank you Mark for your great book. I trusted it entirely because it sounded sane and logical. My body is proving you right. I’m enjoying it.

  40. And you’re right Lori, it is pure bliss to not think about it all the time

  41. Thank you so much for this – I’ve been suffering from GERD to the point where I can hardly function anymore. This gives me great hope that I can get my life back to normal, and hopefully even better than before!

  42. Melissa! Congrats; what a wonderful story. I am so glad I read this, because I too have experienced a lot of pain in my life due to my nervous stomach! For years, I was taking Prilosec, and I finally said, “Enough! What is WRONG with ME!?” My brother advised the paleo diet, and I have been sticking with it now for 22 days since I have been off the pill. My GERD is going away, although, I don’t think heartburn is really a disease… it’s a lifestyle. I chose and still choose not to live that life. Your story is amazing… if anyone is interested in my story, I started a blog called “The Real Food Pyramid.” Check it out if you ever get the chance. And again, congrats on your recovery! You are an inspiration to us all, Melissa, who suffer from heartburn!.

  43. Just a note, that some people have GERD because their stomaches are entirely too acidic. I’ve had several pH probe studies done of my stomach and esophagus, and my stomach runs about 2.0 on the pH scale. Definitely acidic, and not to do with my diet (Your eating is severely limited when you do this test). Nexium is a life saver for me and others like me.

  44. Interesting – I got rid of my GERD when I went on a low-fat vegan stint for about 3 months. Back to normal eating, now it only comes back if I eat too much fat or drink alcohol.

  45. Just recently discovered the whole Paleo approach last week, but have known for years intuitively that it works. Here’s how…
    I’ve had serious GERD for at least 5 years, and was taking 2 Nexium/day to control symptoms. About a year ago, I developed an autoimmune disease called Graves eye disease. Because there is no cure, I tried to stabilize it using an anti-inflammatory diet approach, which included no wheat/dairy. Voila, my GERD symptoms disappeared, along with high cholesterol! When I cheated a little, enter GERD. Now I’m 100% caveman.
    Thanks, Melissa.

  46. I have only been on the diet for a few days, but my GERD is seriously aggravated. Is it normal to have a flare up while your body gets used to the diet?

    1. Oh my gosh, yes. It took me a couple months before I was semi-normal (I couldn’t even eat an apple without getting heartburn). I started exercising (Crossfit) to help myself get over the hump. After about 4 months, I felt 100% cured. Hang in there; it does get better! Watch the fruit intake, eat more protein and fats.

  47. Hi Melissa,
    I was going through the MDA archives doing a search for GERD. Your story has given my husband and myself hope. It has been over two years since you posted your story, I hope you are still thriving marvelously!

  48. I’m on the GERD diet but I have one major concern. I’m losing weight but I don’t want to because I’m already thin. What can I include in my GERD diet to help me keep up my weight?

    [email protected]

  49. I too suffered with daily heartburn. Fatty foods, tomato sauces and peanuts all gave me serious heartburn and acid reflux. I used to go through handfuls of Tums until my Dr. prescribed Prilosec. Prilosec worked well but my acid reflux would return quickly if I stopped taking it. Besides the cost, I became concerned about side effects of continued daily use over such a long period and for the rest of my life. I searched the internet for natural treatments and discovered probiotic Kefir and Kombucha (fermented milk and fermented tea). I was skeptical but purchased some Lifetime Kefir at the store and found that I liked the taste. I would have half a cup to a cup each day as a treat before bedtime. Within several weeks I found that my heartburn had reduced significantly and I could get by taking a couple of Tums and go without the Prilosec. Within two months I began having days with no heartburn and after about 2 1/2 months, I stopped having heartburn altogether! I have now gone about six weeks without using any Tums or Prilosec. I have had only one evening with some minor heartburn after eating a large meal that included some very fatty chicken. After eating my Kefir treat, my heartburn went away. This immediate relief tells me that Kefir may help reduce heartburn in some way other than just the probiotic effects. I believe the Kefir is the reason that I went from daily severe heartburn and reflux to only one minor heartburn in six weeks. I believe it takes some time for the probiotics to colonize your system which would explain why my relief came gradually over a period of weeks. I am so excited to be rid of my heartburn! I only wish I had known about Kefir and Kombucha in time to help my late father. He suffered terribly from heartburn and acid reflux for many years before Prilosec came onto the market. I am now making my own Kefir (which is quite easy) and I am starting to make Kombucha. I have since come across numerous people on the internet who claim that Kefir and/or Kombucha cured their acid reflux. These helathy probiotic foods may not work for everyone but they have done wonders for me! Best wishes.

  50. hello those who have successfully battled gerd please help me ……your reply would save my life suffering…i have so much stress because of my family …..i have a lot of responsibilities …please tell me a way…i have GERD for past 1 my throat hurts so much that i cant study my college……..headaches ….and ear pain ?are these advanced symptoms that cant be treated…i have started on strict diet taking only wheat…for past 3 days ….please reply ….dying here in throat pain

    1. Hi Jack,
      Sounds like you have Silent Reflux (LPR) as well – causes throat symptoms. Have you tried reducing acidic foods in your diet? Look up the Acid Water Diet, and check out the FB groups too. Try eliminating those acidic foods because they are damaging to the throat. The ears can be affected too. Lots of soothing things to try for the throat…slippery elm, marshmallow root, alkaline water, manuka honey. I find ice cold water helps my throat more than hot drinks. Also, used cautiously, baking soda/water helps to deactivate pepsin, so I gargle with it and sip small amounts. Hope you’ve discovered some of these things and are feeling better.