On May 5, 2008, Gayle Colehour began a radical experiment. She stopped eating almost everything she enjoyed -- cheese, milk, corn, wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, salad dressing -- for 10 days.

It was the first step in an elaborate attempt to free herself of a daily habit: taking a heartburn pill.

Colehour, 52, who lives in Maple Grove, had been taking Prilosec for a year and a half. Although it relieved her symptoms after a lifetime of digestive turmoil, she was troubled. "I just didn't like the idea of being on this medicine indefinitely," she said.

Her physician, Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, couldn't have agreed more. He has made it his mission to help patients like Colehour find relief the natural way at his clinic, Allina's Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in Minneapolis.

Plotnikoff argues that drugs like Prilosec mask the underlying problem rather than solve it.

But as Colehour discovered, the alternative -- diet, exercise and lifestyle changes -- can put patients and their families to the test. After her 10-day "elimination diet," she started adding foods back slowly to see if any triggered indigestion. They did.

"It seemed to me that my sensitivities were corn, wheat and dairy," she said. "I did better when I didn't eat [them]."

After that, she overhauled her diet permanently and even banished her husband's junk food from the house. "Some things that I can't resist I make him keep in the van," she said.

Colehour, a program therapist at Allina's Unity Hospital, also took up yoga and ginger tea and gave up evening snacks. It took eight weeks to wean herself off the pills.

Was it worth it? Absolutely, she says.

Her husband, Mike, 54, admits he's jealous. He's been on Prilosec for six years and can't seem to stop. "Maybe a year, six months from now, I'll get the intestinal fortitude to try to battle it one more time," he said.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384