Commonly referred to as heartburn, acid reflux is a condition in which the stomach’s liquefied contents move upward into the muscular tract that connects the throat to the stomach (the esophagus). This acidic content generates a burning sensation and if this flow back becomes chronic, it eventually damages the inner lining of the esophagus. A chronic case of acid reflux is known as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) (GERD). GERD is a common disease that affects millions of Americans each year. It is usually caused by over-the-counter medications and/or lifestyle changes. There are several available treatments for acid reflux and GERD. This article will talk about TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), specifically herbal medicine and acupuncture as natural treatments for acid reflux.
What Causes Acid Reflux?
Several factors can bring about the rise of acid reflux. Eating foods that are spicy, pregnancy, smoking, and obesity are just a few of these. A person may be also genetically predisposed to develop acid reflux. This condition occurs when the movement of food from the throat, through the esophageal tract and into the abdomen is obstructed. One other way this flow can be obstructed is when the stomach’s upper part projects upward into the esophagus. This is known as hiatal hernia. Acid reflux can also arise when an esophageal sphincter malfunctions. This sphincter is a valve that separates the esophagus and abdomen and it controls the movement of food into the abdomen.
What Is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
Healers in East Asia, especially in China for over 3,000 years, have been using a set of healing procedures known collectively as Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. TCM has been used to treat various kinds of mental and physical disorders. The modes of treatment of TCM are derived from the belief that various types of energy and forces are controlled and produced by organs, such as the kidneys, spleen, stomach, heart, and liver. These energy and forces circulate all over the body through energy pathways known as meridians. When the circulation is disturbed by certain factors, the proper medical response is to know the type of problem that has arisen by questioning the patient and observing the symptoms and signs of imbalances in the patient’s body. The TCM practitioner can then accurately form a diagnosis and will come up with a treatment that is aimed at bringing back the proper function of the organs and flow of energy and forces in the body.
How Can Acid Reflux Be Treated With TCM?
Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture are the two most commonly used alternative treatments for acid reflux and GERD.
Chinese Herbal Medicine for Acid Reflex
According to TCM, improper organ function as well as disruptions in the normal circulation of energy and forces in the body can bring about different types of acid reflux. Those problems can be resolved through certain steps undertaken by the practitioner. First, the practitioner needs to determine based on the symptoms of the patient the pattern of dysfunction that’s behind those symptoms. Then, he/she can then design a plan of treatment using herbs and acupuncture to treat or cure those problems. This approach which is also used in the treatment of GERD determines the kind of herbs that will be used to resolve the problem. Acid reflux, for example may be due to a TCM pattern of disharmony known as stomach fire, in which the body has too much heat within flowing into the abdomen.
Some of the herbs used to treat acid reflux or GERD include:
1. Wang lian: This herbal remedy is made up of Coptis chinensis, which is derived the root of the rhizome plant (Chinese goldthread plant). Wang lian has the ability to cool the stomach, decrease heat in the blood, and alleviate inflammation of the intestines.
2. Zhu ru: This herb is derived from bamboo shavings (Arundinaria japonica). It helps remove heat from the abdomen.
3. Zhi mu: Dervied from the root of the plant Anemarrhena asphodeloides. Zhi mu has certain properties that helps cool he stomach.
4. Shi gao: A type of calcium sulfate (gypsum) which helps clear fire and heat from the abdomen.
5. Lu gen: Taken from the root of the reed plant (Phragmites communis). Lu gen can absorb heat and clear it out from the abdomen.
One other possible reason for acid reflux in TCM is an imbalanced liver. Practitioners believe that the liver is responsible for the normal flow of vital energy (qi) throughout the body. The pathways wherein Qi flows are called meridians and liver makes sure that this qi flow in adequate amounts to all the organs of the body to ensure they all function properly. If there is a problem with the liver, illnesses will arise in certain parts of the body. One of these problems is acid reflux or GERD.
To resolve an imbalance in the liver, some of the herbs used include:
1. Bai shao: Made up of the white peony root (Peonia lactiflora). This herb has qualities that help soothe the liver.
2. Hsiang fu: Taken from the root of Cyperus rotundus (Chinese nutgrass). Hsian fu can help promote the flow of qi and regulate liver qi energy.
3. Mu xiang: Derived from the root of Aucklanida costus and used to fortify the spleen and normalize the flow of qi.
4. Fang feng: Taken from the Ledebouriellae divaricatae radix (root). It is used to restore balance between spleen and liver and to expel wind from the body.
5. Chai hu: Taken from the radix of the Bupleurum chinensis (Chinese thorowax). Used to activate the flow of qi in the liver.
Treating Acid Reflex with Acupuncture
During an acupuncture procedure, the practitioner sticks thin long needles into certain parts of the patient’s body in order to restore balance to yin and yang and bring back the normal function of the kidneys, stomach, heart, liver, and spleen. The specific cause of your acid reflux will determine the points in the body where the needles are inserted.
The most commonly used acupoints for the treatment of GERD and acid reflux.
1. Stomach 36 (St 36): This point is situated on the lower leg’s front part, below the kneecap along the muscle known as tibialis anterior. When stimulated St 36 has the ability to lower the rising Qi in the stomach (that brings on acid reflux) and harmonize the stomach.
2. Pericardium 6 (Pc 6) aka Neiguan point: Found on the pericardium meridian on the forearm’s inner side near the crease of the wrist. Used to relieve nausea and chest discomfort.
3. Ren 12: Situated on the body’s front midline along the meridian known as Conception Vessel meridian located in the middle of the stomach. The Ren 12 is the stomach acupoint that can alleviate any excess stagnation in the digestive system and harmonize the abdomen.
A Taiwanese study done in 2005, observed the efficacy of acupuncture on the treatment of acid reflux in Overland Park. The study revealed that when the Neiguan (Pc 6) point was mildly stimulated, it helped lower by 40% TLESRs or transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations. A TLESR is a major contributor to the rise of acid reflux symptoms. During the study, the researchers utilized a very light electro-stimulation of the Pc 6 point.
Besides Chinese herbs and acupuncture, the Chinese message therapy known as Tui Na can be also used to treat acid reflux. As with all types of TCM treatments, Tui Na can be used to boost the circulation of qi and to restore balance on the various organs and physiological systems of the body.