Written by Eduardo Velasco Valido, AP, LAc
What causes Acid reflux or Heartburn?
Acid reflux or GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflex Disease) is a condition that occurs due to the ascension of gastric acids from the Stomach to the mouth throughout the esophagus.
Chronic Gastroesophageal reflux disease can produce other conditions in the body. For example, if the acids are aspirated into the lungs, they may also produce bronchitis and asthma. Another side effect may be affecting the throat, having a sore throat, or hoarseness. And if the esophagus is affected may produce dysphagia and regurgitation.
Biomedical causes of Acid reflux:
Alcohol and tobacco abuse
Cardiac sphincter scarring
Lower esophageal sphincter
Anti-acid Medications in Modern medicine:
There are several anti-acid over-the-counter medications. They are heavily advertised and can be found in every pharmacy or grocery store.
These drugs work great in suppressing the symptoms, which is why they are very popular and consumed by a large portion of the public.
But long-term use of these medications may produce several undesired side effects, like nausea, diarrhea, belching, gas, constipation, and stomach cramps, and in some cases of abuse, users may produce more dangerous side effects like neurotoxicity, osteopenia, microcytic anemia or hypercalcemia.
If you suffer from chronic acid reflux, we encourage you to see your primary care provider to address the root of the problem correctly.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Etiology of Acid Reflux:
The way you eat is very important.
Suppose you consume large quantities of food that heat the stomach and the liver, like spicy food, coffee, alcohol, or chocolate. In that case, they will promote the ascension of heat from the Stomach to the mouth, producing the symptoms of acid reflux.
Also, eating too late at night, too fast, or under stress weakens the stomach and spleen, producing food stagnation and increasing the chances of acid reflux.
Eating too large quantities, more than what your organism can digest, will disturb and weaken your digestive tract, disturbing the middle jiao Qi mechanism and affecting acid production and gastrointestinal motility, generating Dampness, Phlegm accumulation, and constipation, which increases the symptoms of the acid reflux.
On the contrary, eating too many raw or cold nature foods or overuse of medication that clears heat, like some herbs or antibiotics, will weaken the Spleen and Stomach and will, produce indigestion and will, induce the accumulation of phlegm, disturb the gastric acid production, and may produce the same burning pain symptoms as if the patient would be eating too many chilies or spicy foods.
In addition, consuming too little due to rigorous diets or due to emotional unbalances, like in patients with bulimia or anorexia, will damage the Spleen Yang, affecting the stomach energy, clogging the Qi mechanism and potentially producing food stagnation and stomach pain and GERD symptoms.
In Chinese medicine, emotions are essential in creating or healing diseases.
The repression of emotion, everyday frustrations, resentments, or suppressed anger will easily produce Liver Qi stagnation, one of the most common causes of acid reflux and stomach pain.
Liver Qi stagnation produces digestive issues in many different ways.
This Qi stagnation will impair Spleen's capacity to absorb nutrients from the intestines, and will produce phlegm accumulation, slowing down the movement of food through the intestines, causing constipation, and forcing the Qi to go up in the wrong direction inhibiting the proper functioning of the digestive system, causing Stomach qi to rise instead to go down, affecting in this way the stomach acids.
Patients with acid reflux symptoms due to Liver Qi stagnation will feel symptoms like stomach pain, a knot in the epigastrium area, heartburn, loss of appetite, etc., increasing or reducing depending on their emotional conditions or situation.
Different emotions like worrying too much, overthinking, and constant concentration, in addition to a sedentary life with poor diet habits, will damage the Spleen allowing the Liver to overact on the Spleen, increasing the chances of producing all kinds of health problems, like acid reflux or heartburn.
Traditional Chinese Medicine recommendations to reduce acid reflux and GERD
If you suffer from acid reflux, these are common practical recommendations to reduce your symptoms:
Increase your Exercise
Don't overeat or avoid eating too late at night.
Be more conscious of chewing your food, and spend more time chewing.
Try to reduce constipation.
Elevate the head of your bed by adding around 6 inches of wood or plastic wedges.
Try to lose weight
Reduce or eliminate tobacco and alcohol
Eliminate milk and reduce dairy products
Reduce coffee, chocolate, sodas, and acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus.
Be careful with foods that are hard to digest and tend to produce gas, like cabbages, legumes, cucumbers, etc.
Many patients feel better if they reduce carbohydrate intakes like wheat or other grains.
If, after following these recommendations, you are still suffering from acid reflux, it is time to search for professional care; visit your favorite Chinese Medicine practitioners!
Treatment of GERD and Acid Reflux with Traditional Chinese Medicine:
In order to treat acid reflux successfully, we need to accurately diagnose our patients' patterns.
We must treat the root of the problem (Ben) and the symptoms (Biao).
When the symptoms are very acute and severe, we need to focus first on them, and after the patient feels better, go and try to solve the root of the problem to avoid future flare-ups.
We use acupuncture treatments, herbal formulations, and nutrition to treat acid reflux.
Let's see three examples of the most common pattern for GERD:
Liver Qi invading Stomach:
Recurrent acid reflux is related to the emotional state, worst with anger or stress.
Alternating constipation with loose stools.
Shoulder and neck tension.
Cold fingers and toes.
Epigastric and abdominal bloating
Irregular menstruation, etc.
Si Ni San:
This formula regulates and harmonizes the Liver and Spleen.
Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan; with epigastric pain, Shu Gan Wan; with Spleen and Blood deficiency, Xiao Yao San; with stagnant heat, Jia Wei Xiao Yao San.
Ren 12, 13, 17, PC 6, Liv 13, St 36, LI 10, Bl 18, 19, 21.
Acupuncture and herbal formulations are great excellent remedies to treat this condition. However, the treatment usually should take three months to achieve optimal results.
Stomach and Liver Heat:
Acid reflux is aggravated by foods like chocolate, alcohol, or coffee. The patient may wake up around 3:00 am with burning pain.
Hot temper, irritability.
Sour or bitter taste on the mouth.
Epigastric dull pain or burning sensation.
Zuo Jin Wan
This formula is ideal for Liver Fire overacting on the Stomach.
Jia Wei Xiao Jao Wan; with Phlegm, Wen Dan Wan; with Damp Heat, Huang Lian Jie Du Wan.
Ren 12, 13, 17, PC 8, St 44, Liv 2, GB 34, St 36, Li 11.
This pattern usually has good results with herbal formulations and diet corrections. The patient should feel released within 1-2 weeks but keep the treatment for 2-3 months for long-lasting results.
GERD symptoms are associated with eating large portions of food.
Sour of foul belching.
Constipation. Feel relief from stomach acid pain after a bowel movement.
Bao He Wan
This formula reduces Food Stagnation and harmonizes the Stomach.
Mu Xing Shun Qi Wan, with sluggish stools; Jian Pi Wan, with Spleen deficiency; Xiang Sha Yang Wei Wan, with Qi Stagnation.
Re,n 12, St 21, PC6, Li10, St 36, St 40, 44.
This is a common cause of acute acid reflux. With the correct prescription, the patient should get fast relief.
These 3 pattern presentations are just three examples. In real life, there can be many more presentations with similar symptoms.
If you suffer from chronic or severe Acid reflux symptoms, we recommend you seek professional care.
If you are interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine, we encourage you to contact Soul Acupuncture & Herbal, where you will find professionals that will be happy to help you.