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How I Cured My 20 Years of Heartburn Overnight

Dietary changes are some of the most impactful ways through which we can address our medical problems.

Dr Padma Garvey/Plant-Based Doctor Mom

I first experienced heartburn after I started internship training at New York Hospital in 1992.  An Ob/Gyn residency program is grueling.  My first rotation as an intern meant waking up at 4:30 in the morning to get to the hospital by 5:30am.  I rounded on two whole floors of patients, did all the circumcisions I had to do, ordered all the tests required and then rushed to the clinic.  Clinic was a free-for-all.  There were no appointments.  People just showed up and we saw all the patients that signed in that day.  I had no time for lunch.  

Once OB clinic finished, GYN clinic started.  Every other night I was on call until 11pm.  The kicker was that, invariably, I would have to assist with a c-section that started at 10:30 pm.  So even though I was supposed to end my shift at 11pm, I did not leave the hospital until 12 midnight.  And then I would wake up the next morning at 4:30 am to start all over again.  

Ironically this was the easy rotation intern year.  The other rotations intern year were even more grueling.  But that’s what a healthy 26 year old can do.

But within about a week of starting internship, I began experiencing horrible heartburn on an almost daily basis.  I carried a bottle of Maalox in my lab coat and would take a drink from it like I was sipping a smoothie.   

Pregnancy was a challenge.  During my pregnancy as a chief resident,  my heartburn was relentless.  Even after I had my son, my heartburn continued, no small part due to the extra twenty pounds I was now lugging from the pregnancy.

My son and me 8 months pregnant with my daughter

By the time I reached my mid 30s, forty pounds heavier and two kids later, I had assumed that heartburn was just something I was going to have to put up with.  My  father's declining health from diabetes scared me.  I was searching for answers on how to avoid diabetes myself. 

 I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and committed myself to a low oil, whole grain, unprocessed plant-based diet so that I could avoid diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer, all the problems that plagued my family.  I jumped all in, all at once.  

Literally overnight, I eliminated all animal dairy from my diet. I drastically reduced expressed oil consumption. Any grains I consumed had to be 100% whole grain. I was already a vegetarian. I will freely admit that giving up yogurt was the hardest thing I had to do, coming from a culture that loves its butter and yogurt.  But even this I gave up because I was so convinced about the nutrition science. 

My kids, my niece, and me at my heaviest

Within the first week I noticed that I was breathing more easily, my pants were a little looser, and my metabolism was higher.  But it wasn’t until two weeks had gone by, when I was cleaning around my bathroom sink, that I realized I hadn’t used my heartburn medications in two weeks.  There were the bottles of Tums and Maalox on my counter, untouched.  My heartburn literally disappeared overnight.  I have not had to use them since.  

When I think of how much money people spend on over-the-counter as well as prescription medications for acid reflux, how many procedures they subject themselves to, and how many hours they spend in agony, I am frustrated that more doctors and patients don’t try this lifestyle. 

Other articles by Padma Garvey