Chinese Medicine & the Treatment for Heartburn

According to the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, in 2007, 19 million people in the United States reported symptoms of heartburn the most common symptom caused by Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).  As a result about 60 to 70 million Americans who suffer from GERD spend approximately $107 billion yearly on drugs and antacids in an attempt to ameliorate the pain and prevent damage to their esophagus. The National Institute of Health (NIH) 2008 maintains that the cause of acid reflux is still unclear but two anatomical abnormalities; malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and hiatal hernias seem to be related to GERD. Other factors contributing to GERD include genetics, Helicobacter bacterium, obesity, smoking, pregnancy, certain foods, medications such as aspirin, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, calcium channel blockers, asthma drugs, and hormones.  Complications from heartburn may include esophageal stricture, bleeding, pain during swallowing, ulceration and Barrett’s esophagus (a pre-cancerous lining of the esophagus).
Western medical treatment for GERD includes calcium tablets (TUMS) and proton pump inhibitors such as Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Acifex, and Protonix.  Long term use of these overly prescribed medications include constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth, abdominal pain, dizziness, headaches, nausea, rashes, breast enlargement in men, anemia, and bone loss.  For many individuals who discontinue the use of these medications the heartburn symptoms return as the inherent imbalance is not corrected. Chinese Medical modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicines and lifestyle education have been used for centuries as effective and natural treatments for GERD.
According to Chinese Medicine the most common reasons for which create energetic imbalances resulting in GERD are emotional upset and eating the wrong foods. Chinese medicine views reflux as rebellious energy (Qi) that is rising where it should be sinking. Two common energy imbalances related to acid regurgitation include Stomach Fire and Liver Qi invading the Stomach.  Stomach Fire occurs when too much heat overflows into the Stomach. Liver Qi invading the Stomach occurs when the Liver energy impairs the Stomach descending function resulting in acid regurgitation. Specific acupuncture points are used to treat each of these energetic imbalances.   Combining acupuncture with Chinese herbal formulas is recommended as these medicines can be used cool the Stomach Fire or to regulate the overbearing Liver energy while the person is at work or at home. For most who suffer with GERD regaining a balanced and healthy digestive system includes dietary, lifestyle changes, exercising regularly, learning relaxation techniques such as, meditation, Tai Chi and Qi-gong. Other lifestyle recommendations include, quitting smoking, eliminating alcohol, refraining from eating before going to bed, avoiding fast foods, consuming four to six light meals a day instead of two or three large meals.  Finally, avoid common food triggers such as dairy products, tomatoes, citrus fruits and beverages, garlic, peppermint, and fish oil supplements.
Garran, Thomas Avery.Western Herbs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2008.
The National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (NDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH, June 2008).

Maciocia, Giovanni, The practice of Chinese Medicine. The treatment of diseases with acupuncture and Herbs. Churchill, Livingstone, 1996.

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David Treviño  / MSOM., M.ED., L.AC., DIPL. OM (NCCAOM)

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