Acid reflux is described as a regurgitation of acid from the stomach up into the oesophagus. Symptoms of reflux include burning pains in the chest, throat and even mouth. It can be mild and only aggravated by certain foods, or an ongoing problem. It can become a chronic condition called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), which involves damage to the mucosal lining in the throat. This is caused by the valve which connects your throat to your stomach becoming too relaxed over time. This allows stomach acid to go up into the throat. The 2 most common symptoms of GERD is heartburn and acid regurgitation. Heartburn is in fact pain in the throat caused by the acid, but as it passes up behind the heart, it was believed to be heart pain many years ago.
What causes Acid Reflux and GERD?
In clinic most cases I encounter of acid reflux are of a chronic nature. A detailed history often reveals either a family history of reflux, or dietary and lifestyle issues. Excess consumption of fatty foods or alcohol puts excess heat into the stomach. The stomach is considered a cauldron in Acupuncture, so there is already heat there. Like any fire, add too much fuel and it burns out of control. Reflux is described as ‘rebellious stomach heat’. The stomach Qi is supposed to go down, when it goes up instead it is considered rebellious. Nausea is a classic symptom of this. Depending on how much heat is in the stomach determines how severe the symptoms will be. Mild heat shows as indigestion or occasional reflux. Severe heat can develop into stomach ulcers, Barrett’s Syndrome and more. Ulceration and permanent changes can occur to walls of the lower esophagus which increases the risks of cancer and hernia.
Another common cause is a blocked gallbladder, again often affected by diet and lifestyle. This blocks the flow of bile into the digestion which disrupts the stomach causing reflux. Any symptoms of ongoing reflux and heartburn should be investigated. Stomach acid is not designed to leave the stomach It can be very damaging to the surrounding tissues.
There can be secondary symptoms to reflux from an Acupuncture viewpoint which you may feel are unrelated, these can include:
- a bitter taste in the mouth
- frontal headaches
- bleeding gums or mouth ulcers
- irregular bowels
- red or sore eyes
These other symptoms reflect changes to the channels and organs connected to the stomach itself.
Acupuncture for Reflux
As stated above, reflux in Acupuncture is caused by excess heat in the stomach, often stress and poor diet are key factors. Acupuncture points are selected which clear heat from the stomach organ, which may help subdue the uprising acid. I also use points which target the underlying cause of your reflux which may provide longer lasting relief. We will also need to address any diet or lifestyle concerns which may be aggravating the GERD or reflux. Like with any condition, the prognosis is better the sooner you seek treatment. If permanent changes have occurred due to reflux, this doesn’t mean we still can’t help in some way. Often these patients are already on nexium and similar medications from their GP, but are still not having complete symptomatic relief.
There is research showing that Acupuncture may assist with the management of GERD symptoms, as there has been studies showing Acupuncture may have a regulatory effect on the Gastrointestinal System. More high quality research is needed for conclusive results to be reached. Here is a summary of some recent research findings:
A review in 2015 found: “The dual regulatory effects of acupuncture may manifest by promoting gastric peristalsis in subjects with low initial gastric motility, and suppressing peristalsis in subjects with active initial motility. In addition, the regulation of acupuncture on gastric motility may be intensity-dependent. Our findings suggest that further studies are needed to investigate the effects and more systematic mechanisms in treating GI dysfunction, and to promote the application of acupuncture for the treatment of GI diseases.”
Research from 2017 into Changes in Esophageal Motility after Acupuncture concluded: “Our results showed that acupuncture on the digestive point decreases LES (Lower esophageal sphincter) basal pressure. Acupuncture may be an alternative treatment to spastic disorders of the LES.”
A meta-analysis from 2017 had positive finding but confirmed that more high quality studies are required for conclusive results: “This meta-analysis suggests that acupuncture is an effective and safe treatment for GORD. However, due to the small sample size and poor methodological quality of the included trials, further studies are required to validate our conclusions.”
Tips for Managing Reflux
- Avoid excess intake of greasy or fatty foods
- Don’t drink large amounts of coffee or alcohol
- avoid hot spicy and pungent foods such as chilli, garlic and onion
- Drink mint or Chrysanthemum tea to help cool the stomach
Although at the moment you can see that there are no conclusive evidence published in western scientific papers, it is worth considering that Chinese medicine has a long history of clinical experience and we may be able to help you ease some of your symptoms. Call me on 9796 2388 today for an appointment to discuss how we may or may not be able to help you.