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  • Writer's pictureDr. Brian Lum

The Root Cause of Heartburn & How Functional Medicine Can Help

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

There is often a better, far simpler, and permanent approach to heartburn than by simply covering up superficial symptoms through medication.

Functional medicine allows for the comprehensive treatment of the patient during long appointments and the use of thorough diagnostic testing.

This approach looks into the cause of your symptoms or condition and aims to restore balance and function through the most natural means possible.

In functional medicine, a diagnosis is the beginning, not the end of clinical investigation.

a fire imposed on a horizon. text overlay says the root cause of heartburn

When a person has heartburn or acid reflux, an antacid medication is often prescribed.  

Antacid medications or 'proton-pump-inhibitors,' shut off the stomach’s ability to produce and secrete hydrochloric acid (stomach acid).  

This can provide temporary relief of reflux symptoms but it fails to address the actual cause of heartburn.  In almost every case, the cause of heartburn is long term, low levels of hydrochloric acid.  

What Causes Heartburn?

Hydrochloric acid is necessary for digestion in the stomach.  Persistent stress, poor diet, and anxiety can decrease stomach acid.  When these levels become low, digestion is impaired and undigested food residue is left in the stomach.

This food residue can feed certain harmful stomach bacteria which then creates a different type of acid which can go into the esophagus, causing acid reflux/heartburn symptoms. 

Testing for Digestive Function 

One of the best tests for low stomach acid or 'hypochlorhydria' is a standard comprehensive metabolic panel.  One of several key markers is serum protein.  If the serum protein in your blood is below 6.9 it is very likely that you have low stomach acid levels.  

Low normal serum protein indicates either a lack of protein intake or an inability to digest protein because of low stomach acid.  For the vast majority it the latter. 

A useful functional medicine test that assesses stomach digestion looks at the metabolites (breakdown products) of protein to see if they are elevated. If they are evaluated, hypochlorhydria is highly likely.  

This test also evaluates mineral and vitamin levels including zinc.  Zinc is crucial for making enough stomach acid and most people are zinc deficient.

A Comprehensive Treatment Plan

Since a majority of all cases of acid reflux are originally caused by low stomach acid, the objective is should be to focus on restoring stomach digestion so that the reflux problem will be permanently fixed.

To do this I will ask the patient to avoid certain foods that lower stomach acid and include other foods that naturally facilitate the stomach’s ability to make it’s own acid. 

The body needs certain minerals and vitamins - primarily B12 and zinc to make sufficient levels of hydrochloric acid.  By identifying any deficiencies and repleting these specific nutrients, recovery can be sped up.  

These deficiencies usually have ramifications throughout your body. Restoring balance usually makes the patient feel better overall, in addition to resolving their reflux issue.

Acid reflux or heart burn is not just a nuisance, your ability to digest and utilize nutrients is impaired when you experience these symptoms.  

Heartburn can have many health consequences including an elevated risk of certain diseases so addressing this condition effectively is very important.

Finding Relief Naturally

Before you reach for a quick fix in the form of an antacid tablet, the use of antacids are not without potential consequences - they have been implicated in the progression of many conditions including depression, liver disease, and overall increased risk of death.

Looking for and addressing the cause of your symptoms will always take more time, but it is in your interest that you are not simply addressing the outward signs of a problem.  

If you would like to speak to me to ask questions about functional medicine, heartburn or how I can help you, please schedule a Free 15 Minute Consultation or call or text my office at 913-728-5291.

My clinic offers functional medicine appointments as well as manual chiropractic treatments. I do online consultations for those out-of-state or outside of the United States.


If you think that you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.  No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Nor should you ever delay seeking medical advice or treatment due to the information contained on this Website.

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