Hiatal Hernia Causes and Nondrug, Nonsurgical Treatment

by Dr. Kilcup | Oct 20, 2015 | Acid Reflux, Articles, Digestive Health, Food Sensitivities

Hiatal hernias are really common and standard medical treatments are a bummer.  I want to let you know some safe, effective and healthy ways to treat a hiatal hernia.

A Hiatal hernia is a condition where the top of stomach squeezes through the diaphragm.  Normally the the stomach is below the diaphragm. This video does a good job showing how the hiatal hernia forms, and the narration is clear and informative.

Hiatal hernias are a big deal, not just because they can cause acid reflux,  but because if not treated properly they can lead to esophageal cancer.  So if you or a loved one is has a hiatal hernia, it’s important to know how to treat them.

There are two definitive ways to diagnose a hiatal hernia.  The first is called a barium swallow x-ray.  The second method involves endoscopy, where a camera is inserted down the esophagus to visualize the hernia. Often, though, hiatal hernias are diagnosed by symptoms alone.

Symptoms of hiatal hernias vary from none to heartburn or abdominal discomfort.

Standard Medical Treatments for Hiatal Hernia…YUCK!

Standard medical treatments for hiatal hernias are a real bummer!  The first medical treatment is to prescribe something to get rid of the acid in the stomach.  Over the counter Antacids like like Maalox, Mylanta, Tums and Alka-Seltzer or prescription drugs like Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac, Nexium, Prevacid or Prilosec are examples of these acid neutralizing, medical treatments.  The idea is that since a hiatal hernia can make it easier for the stomach acid to get out of the stomach and into the esophagus, just get rid of the acid and then the esophagus won’t get hurt.

Bad Side Effects

These antacid drugs come with the possibly of developing all kinds really bad conditions like kidney disease, heart disease, fatigue, candida, irritable bowel syndrome, increased risk of cancer, poor vision, brittle nails, hair loss, hearing loss, tooth decay and a higher risk of developing gluten sensitivity. [1]  A normal person would look at that last sentence and think, “Why would anyone take anything that could lead to that many awful diseases?”  I agree!

The reason these drugs can lead to so many diseases is that when you get rid of stomach acid, you stop getting the nutrition out of foods and supplements, and you allow pathogens into the body that should be destroyed by the acid that is designed to be in the stomach.  Basically, a person taking these drugs is starving their body of needed nutrients and dropping the first line of defense against all harmful bugs.

The second medical treatment for hiatal hernias is surgery.  Obviously, if the hernia is severe enough there is no choice but surgery to fix it.  However, the vast majority of hiatal hernias are minor and should not be operated on.

As you can see, standard medical treatments can be quite problematic. Fortunately, I have had great success treating hiatal hernias with safer, non-invasive methods..  Lucky for you I have had great success treating hiatal hernias with things that won’t make you come down with some other disease.

Functional Medicine is a Great Approach to Hiatal Hernias.  

Functional medicine looks for the cause of the problem and fixes it so the health problems go away. What I find in my practice is that hiatal hernias have multiple causes.

All causes of hiatal hernias share a common factor: they induce stomach swelling. This inflammation keeps the stomach trapped in the diaphragm. Once the inflammation is addressed, the swelling subsides, and the hernia resolves naturally.

Helicobacter Pylori

An infection of Helicobacter Pylori can cause the stomach to become inflamed and  swell.  This infection is best diagnosed through stool testing. The standard medical treatment for H. Pylori involves three antibiotics that can significantly harm the digestive tract. Fortunately, I have discovered a much safer and highly effective alternative treatment.

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is often the root cause of a hiatal hernia. This condition causes stomach swelling and excessive gas, which can exacerbate acid reflux and heartburn, further pushing the stomach above the diaphragm and worsening the hernia. I have written extensively about SIBO here.

Food Sensitivity

Sometimes food sensitivities can cause or contribute to a hiatal hernia.  A food sensitivity happens when the immune system thinks a food is a pathogen. This immune response can create swelling in the stomach.  Testing for food sensitivities is straight forward. Once the testing is done, the fix is simply to avoid the foods that are causing the harmful reactions.


Finally, I have found that toxins can cause hiatal hernias. Toxins such as mold, heavy metals, pesticides, and processed foods can cause the stomach to swell and become trapped in the diaphragm. The solution is to eliminate toxin exposure and detoxify the body.

Additional Tips for Hiatal Hernia!

Get adjusted!

The initial step in treating a hiatal hernia is manual adjustment. In some cases, chiropractors can pull the stomach down and out of the diaphragm. This safe, albeit slightly uncomfortable, technique should be considered first as it can effectively resolve the hernia. If the hernia recurs, the treatment can be repeated.

Limit Fluids

There are a couple of practical things that are important to do with a hiatal hernia.  The first is don’t drink anything with meals.  Yup, you read that right.  What happens when you add liquid to the stomach is you dilute the stomach acid and kill good healthy digestion.  This does two bad things.

First, it adds liquid volume to the stomach. making it easier for the contents of the stomach to slosh up and into the esophagus.

Second, because the food is poorly digested it begins to rot.  Rotting food creates fumaric acid, which the stomach is not protected against.  As a result the stomach and the esophagus are damaged from drinking beverages with food.

The second thing to do with a hiatal hernia is not eat 2 hours or drink 30 minutes before going to bed.  If the stomach has stuff in it and a person with a hiatal hernia lies down the contents could leak up into the esophagus causing pain and damage.


When patients has been on any kind of antacid for any length of time they often have developed other problems.

The first condition is called dysbiosis, which means an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the colon. Diagnosed via a stool analysis,  dysbiosis is caused by the drugs used to treat hiatal hernias rather than the hernia itself. When stomach acid production is reduced, these harmful bacteria pass through the stomach into the intestines, where they proliferate and can cause intestinal issues such as Crohn’s disease.

The second condition is Leaky Gut Syndrome, which I have detailed extensively here: Leaky Gut Syndrome. When the gut is damaged by infections, diet, or stress, it leaks toxins into the bloodstream, potentially triggering various health problems, including  Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Hiatal Hernia

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is the most effective treatment to heal the damage in the stomach and esophagus. The extra oxygen that HBOT delivers promotes healing in an extraordinary way. This treatment can quickly bring relief of pain and healing of the damage that is part of a hiatal hernia.


In conclusion, managing hiatal hernias through natural, non-invasive methods can be highly effective. Key strategies include manual adjustment by a trained chiropractor to reposition the stomach, limiting fluid intake during meals to prevent acid reflux, and avoiding food or drink before bedtime to minimize esophageal damage. Addressing underlying issues such as dysbiosis and leaky gut syndrome, often exacerbated by conventional antacid treatments, is crucial. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is also highlighted as a powerful option to promote healing and provide relief from the pain and damage associated with hiatal hernias.

1. Cohen, Suzy, Drug Muggers: which medications are robbing your body of essential nutrients-and natural ways to restore them, New York, Rodale, 2011, Print

Darrell Kilcup, DC, CFMP

Hi there! I’m Dr. Kilcup. You know that health problem you’ve been dealing with – the one that doctors can’t seem to solve, that’s stealing way too much of your time, energy and joy? I can help you get to the bottom that. I am passionate about using the best of science and nutrition to find and fix root causes of health issues. Start your journey towards healing and relief today.

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