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What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?

          Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a severe condition in which stomach acid repeatedly flows back into the esophagus. As a result, the backwash, also called acid reflux, can irritate the lining of the esophagus (Mayo Clinic, 2023). Acid reflux can happen from time to time, but if it happens repeatedly, the individual can be at risk for GERD (Mayo Clinic, 2023). In addition, as the tissue in the throat becomes damaged from acid reflux, the individual can experience disturbances in their daily sleep and eating patterns. Those at risk for GERD include being overweight, pregnant, and smoking or exposed to second-hand smoke (Cleveland Clinic, 2019).

What are the symptoms of Gastroesophageal reflux disease?

          Some of the symptoms of GERD are persistent heartburn, acid regurgitation, coughing, chest pain, problem swallowing, vomiting, and sore throat (Cleveland Clinic, 2019). Heartburn, a sign of acid reflux, is a painful burning sensation in the middle of the chest due to irritation in the lining of the esophagus from stomach acid (Cleveland Clinic, 2019). This burning sensation can worsen after eating; for many, it worsens when they lie in bed, causing discomfort while sleeping. There are cases when individuals have GERD without heartburn, and so “they experience pain in the chest, hoarseness in the morning or trouble swallowing” (Cleveland Clinic, 2019). They may feel something stuck in their throat or are choking because it is tight.

How does Gastroesophageal reflux happen?

          GERD happens when the individual repeatedly experiences acid reflux. During acid reflux, the stomach contents flow back up the esophagus into the throat because the lower esophageal sphincter (valve) does not close properly or relax when the food arrives in the stomach (Cleveland Clinic, 2019). In addition, if the individual experiences heartburn more than twice a week over a period of several weeks and is actively taking heartburn medications and antacids with the symptoms that keep returning, they are at risk of GERD (Cleveland Clinic, 2019). 

What are the causes of (GERD) IN Oriental Medicine?

          The causes of Gastroesophageal reflux disease in Oriental Medicine can be due to the dysfunction of the organs such as the Spleen/Stomach, Liver/Gallbladder, and Kidney. All three organs must actively work together to create a healthy digestive system. If the Liver and Spleen are not functioning well in harmony, then there will be an imbalance in the digestive system (Traditional Chinese Medicine, n.d.). In addition, there has been a disruption in their relationship due to something physical or nonphysical, like emotions, causing stress and frustration to the body (Traditional Chinese Medicine, n.d.). Therefore, to restore a healthy metabolism, the Liver and Spleen must each be balanced and cooperate as supportive partners (Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2019).

What can Oriental Medicine do to treat (GERD)?


          Acupuncture can be used to help provide relief for the symptoms of GERD, including any pain or discomfort that comes with it. In Changes in Esophageal Motility after Acupuncture, acupuncture on the digestive point can decrease lower esophageal sphincter (LES) basal pressure. It can restore the balance between the organs, such as the Spleen/Stomach, Liver/Gallbladder, and Kidney, and calm the body from overwhelming stress. In a clinical study of 60 patients with GERD, acupuncture inhibited intraesophageal acid and bile reflux and safely alleviated patients’ symptoms (Zhang, Quin, & Guo, 2010). 

        One of the best acupressure points for acid reflux is at Pericardium 6, located near the wrist. When applied pressure to the point with the thumb and massage in circular motions, it helps relieve nausea and vomiting from acid reflux (Alban Acupuncture, 2023). Another acupressure point is called Conception Vessel 12, located near the navel of the stomach. Activating this pressure point by pressing it with your index and middle fingers and rubbing it in circles can alleviate heartburn, bloating, gas, and indigestion (The Green Leaf, 2022). 

          Sini Powder (SNP) and Zuojin Pill (ZJP) are Chinese Herbal formulas for treating GERD. SNP can soothe the Liver and regulate the Spleen/Stomach while relieving the stagnation of the Yang and regulating the Qi (Li, Huang, Wu, Huang, et al., 2020). Combined with ZJP, it can “soothe the Liver, clear heat, reduce adversity, and harmonize the Spleen/Stomach” (Li, Huang, Wu, Huang, et al., 2020). Other herbal and natural remedies are chamomile, which has a soothing effect on the digestive tract, and ginger, an effective remedy for heartburn (Harvard Health, 2021).

          Moxibustion can be used to reduce bloating, improve digestion, and improve nutrient absorption. In addition, when the digestive system is weak from acid reflux, moxibustion can enhance its strength (Kauffman, 2019). Different digestion points can be traced over the belly, such as Ren 8 (center of belly button) used to expel cold; Ren 6 (2 fingers below the navel), as the Qi strengthener; and Ren 15 (tip of the sternum), a good alternative treatment for GERD. With Ren 15, patients often notice that their heartburn symptoms have substantially decreased after a couple of treatments (GinSen, 2023).

          Cupping, an ancient healing therapy, can be used to ease pain and symptoms of GERD. The suction from the cupping breaks open tiny blood vessels under the skin, creating round bruise-like marks that will fade within a week or two (Cleveland Clinic, n.d.). It can be performed with a handheld suction pump, creating a vacuum without heat. Ultimately, it removes blood stagnation, enhances blood circulation, improves metabolism, loosens connective tissue, and stimulates healing (EMW Physiotherapy, 2023). 

          Some lifestyle recommendations include avoiding foods that can cause reflux episodes and heartburn such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, and carbonated drinks, and engaging in behavioral changes like weight loss, head of bed elevation (HOBE), and smoking cessation (Jensen, Hveem, El-serag, & Lagergren, 2017). In addition, avoiding large meals before bedtime can prevent bloating and reduce the risk of heartburn. Lastly, wearing loose-fitting clothes can lessen the pressure on the stomach (NYU Langone Health, n.d).

          At Rapha Acupuncture in Newport Beach, we are a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinic specializing in women’s and men's health and can help you design the best treatment plan for asthma! Using acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbs customized to your symptoms, Rapha Acupuncture provides a natural and holistic solution. Give us a call today!

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