Dealing with acid reflux the holistic way

Reflux can destroy the voice

The singer’s enemy is acid reflux aka heartburn or indigestion. It can be a debilitating condition which hampers or halts a singer’s voice and career. Singer, vocal coach and kinesiologist Gary Albert Hughes explores how this potentially voice destroying condition can be dealt with in a holistic way.

If you are reading this article you most probably have experienced acid reflux, heartburn or indigestion at some stage in your life. For a performer it’s the ultimate monster. Burning, raw, raspy vocal folds or an uncomfortable chest and bloated tummy are some of the least desirable symptoms to experience when you are about to perform. In fact, in the most extreme cases it can force a performer to put their career on hold.

I understand, from a professional and personal perspective, just how debilitating the condition can be. Before I trained as a systematic kinesiologist (a holistic and naturopathic health modality) I studied as a classical musician at the Purcell School of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and as a singer at the Royal Academy of Music.

I enjoyed a full and varied 12 year career as a theatre performer and ran my own vocal coaching studio. I have seen the emotional, financial and physical devastation vocal health problems can cause when one solely relies on one’s voice for work and for pleasure. I also suffered myself and battled for many years from my late teens into my early twenties. I took a number of the over-the-counter drugs outlined in this article – to no avail. Eventually I visited a kinesiologist who sorted me out in a matter of weeks. This is what inspired me to change the course of my career and life and to train as a kinesiologist.

Now I specialise in helping singers, actors, dancers and musicians with physical and emotional health issues that may be holding them back in their lives and careers. Acid reflux is probably the number one complaint patients present with at my clinic. I now specialise in helping singers, actors, dancers and musicians with physical and emotional health issues that may be holding them back in their lives and careers. Acid reflux is probably the number one complaint patients present with at my clinic.

Case study

I had a patient at The Balanced Performer clinic recently whose acid reflux had gotten so bad she had lost about four notes from her soprano voice and had to put her career on hold. She was on a concoction of medications that were simply not working. So I set out a very carefully planned bespoke protocol (because everyone is biochemically different) to bring her off the medications and I introduced specific digestive supplements and herbal remedies, along with diet and lifestyle changes. She returned to normal functioning digestion within about four weeks, regained her full range and hasn’t suffered since.

Pharmaceutical medications

I’m not going to beat around the bush. I do not believe that pharmaceutical medications and over-the-counter drugs for heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux work and I never recommend them. The main medications, either over-the-counter or from the doctor, are antacids (Gaviscon, Rennie, Pepto Bismol, Alka Seltzer), proton pump inhibitors (Omeprazole, Lansoprazole) or H2 blockers (Cimetidine, Famotidine, Nizatidine, Ranitidine).

Here’s a very quick and simple overview of what these medicines actually are:


These neutralise stomach acid by combining three basic salts, aluminium, magnesium, and calcium, with bicarbonate or hydroxide ions.

Proton pump inhibitors

Also known as PPIs, these block acid production. They are the most powerful drugs for reducing stomach acid production and are generally only available on prescription.

H2 blockers

These medicines reduce acid production in your stomach and generally work very quickly. I plead with you, do not make these medications your first port of call. Please seek alternative, natural remedies and get to the root cause of your problem.

Let me explain why.

Firstly, please understand that the reason you have acid reflux in the first place is simply due to some kind of imbalance. Guess what? You can rebalance imbalances. This is true for most health conditions. We all too quickly reach for a pill for every ill. Well they don’t fix the issue, they merely mask the symptoms. We are all biochemically individual and the same drug cannot solve the same problem for everyone. If three different patients each have different root causes – for example stress, food intolerance or a digestive enzyme imbalance – then how can the same drug fix each of them?

My job is to ask what is causing this issue and then prescribe a bespoke protocol with different herbs and supplements for each individual. Even with the same enzyme imbalance in two different patients the root cause will be different. One patient may be lacking in trace minerals and therefore not producing hydrochloric acid, and the other may be lacking in B vitamins and therefore not digesting fats efficiently. On an even deeper level, one patient’s body may want a supplement containing hydrochloric acid, and another patient may require the nutritional materials needed to produce their own hydrochloric acid. Everyone’s root cause and healing path is different.

The medications listed above and all other over the counter and prescribed drugs neutralise stomach acid. This means they reduce the amount of acid the stomach is creating. What you need to understand is that, in 95% of acid reflux cases, the stomach is not producing enough acid. To compensate for not producing enough acid your stomach pushes it higher up in order for it to do its job, and as a result gets pushed up into the oesophagus. This isn’t my theory folks, it is a scientific fact (it’s just some GPs just haven’t caught up with this new information). Now, by neutralising your already very low stomach acid levels you are actually making the problem worse. As a result your body will desperately try to produce more acid and push it further up. In addition, reducing acid in your stomach diminishes your primary defence mechanism for food-borne infections, which will increase your risk of food poisoning and other infections such as parasites and viruses. You’ll also develop both a tolerance to and dependence on these drugs, so unfortunately you can’t stop taking them without suffering repercussions. Later in the article I’ll advise you on how to stop taking these drugs, but a bit more information first.

PPIs were never designed to treat people with heartburn and acid reflux. They were originally designed for people with:

  • bleeding ulcers
  • infections with the ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter Pylori Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (a rare condition that causes your stomach to produce excess acid)
  • severe acid reflux where an endoscopy has confirmed that your oesophagus is damaged.

Around 60 to 70% of people are wrongly prescribed these medications for easily remedied acid reflux, heart burn and indigestion.

Acid reflux can kill the voice
Acid reflux can kill the voice

The cure

The cure for acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion is usually very simple. I would say 99% of the time the problem is due to an imbalance in your gastric function, healthy gut bacteria, stomach enzymes or hydrochloric acid. If you get these in perfect balance then you’ve solved the root cause of the problem and no longer need to cover the symptoms with drugs. Nine out of 10 clients come to my clinic with some form of irritable bowel syndrome or digestive complaint – and it’s usually very easy to fix. It’s less easy if the person is on medications, but there is a very specific protocol you can follow to come off them. Ideally, you’ll want to gradually decrease your dose over time. Once you get down to the lowest dose of the PPI, you can start substituting with an over-the-counter antacid (Gaviscon, Rennie etc). Then you can gradually wean yourself off the antacids over the following weeks. While you wean yourself off these drugs, you will need to start implementing lifestyle changes such as following a healthy diet, taking supplements and reducing stress levels to prevent the problem from returning. This may include taking probiotics, food enzymes, caprylic acid or aloe vera; meditating regularly, and cutting down on gluten, milk and sugar as well as any other inflammatory foods. At my clinic I also perform in depth food sensitivity testing.

As always, please consult your doctor when deciding to reduce doses and take supplements, and please seek the help of a kinesiologist to help you with exactly what your body needs throughout the process.

If you are reading this and are suffering, please know that it is unnecessary and there is always a solution. I wish every success in your journey.

Gary is a Therapist and Coach for performing artists. He specialises in treating singers so they can overcome nerves, performance anxiety and stage fright so that they can own their talent, do what they love while loving doing it. He is a certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Emotional Freedom Coach. He has had a 20-year career as a professional singer in musical theatre, classical and pop music, overcame panic attacks and stage fright himself and has been treating singers with anxiety for 10 years.