Manage Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) with TCM
What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition when stomach acid repeatedly flows back into the esophagus. As a result, the backwash, also called acid reflux, can irritate the lining of the esophagus, which can cause a burning sensation in the the chest, known as heartburn (Cleveland Clinic, 2019; 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.
What are the symptoms of Gastroesophageal reflux disease?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. GERD can cause symptoms such as:
Persistent heartburn: A painful burning sensation in the middle of the chest that often occurs after eating. For many, it worsens lying in bed, causing discomfort while sleeping.
Acid regurgitation: Stomach acid flows backward into the mouth, causing a sour taste.
Cough: A persistent cough, especially at night.
Chest pain: A feeling of pressure or tightness in the chest.
Problem swallowing: Difficulty swallowing food or liquids or having a choking feeling.
Vomiting: Throwing up food or stomach contents.
Sore throat: A sore, scratchy feeling in the throat or hoarseness in the morning (Cleveland Clinic, 2019).
The symptoms of GERD can vary from person to person, and some people may not experience any symptoms at all. If you are experiencing any symptoms of GERD more than twice a week over a period of several weeks, or if you are taking heartburn medications and anti-acids, but your symptoms are not improving, you should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment (Cleveland Clinic, 2019).
How does Gastroesophageal reflux happen?
GERD happens when the individual repeatedly experiences acid reflux. During acid reflux, the stomach acid repeatedly flows back up the esophagus into the throat when the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach, does not close properly or relaxes when the food arrives in the stomach (Cleveland Clinic, 2019). The risk of developing GERD increases with age, obesity, pregnancy, hiatal hernia, and smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke (Cleveland Clinic, 2019). Certain medications can worsen GERD symptoms.
What are the causes of (GERD) IN Oriental Medicine?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), GERD is believed to be caused by an imbalance of the Spleen/Stomach, Liver/Gallbladder, and Kidney organs. The Spleen/Stomach digest food and absorb nutrients, the Liver/Gallbladder store and process emotions, and the Kidney supports the body's overall health and vitality. When these organs are not functioning properly, they can build toxins and fluids in the digestive system, creating pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle separating the esophagus from the stomach. If the LES is not able to close properly, stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus, causing GERD symptoms. Therefore, to restore a healthy digestive system, the three organs must each be balanced and cooperate as supportive partners (Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2019). In addition to the organ imbalance, TCM also believes that GERD can be caused by emotional stress, poor diet, and lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity.
What can Oriental Medicine do to treat (GERD)?
TCM can be used as a complementary therapy to conventional medicine to help manage GERD symptoms and improve overall health.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatment that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. It believes to work by stimulating the body's natural healing abilities. There is some evidence that acupuncture can help relieve the symptoms of GERD, including any pain or discomfort that comes with it. A study found that acupuncture on the digestive point can decrease lower esophageal sphincter (LES) basal pressure (Vieira et al., 2017). It means that acupuncture can help keep the LES closed, preventing stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. Another study found that acupuncture can inhibit intraesophageal acid and bile reflux (Zhang et al., 2010). It means that acupuncture can help reduce the amount of stomach acid and bile flowing back into the esophagus and alleviate symptoms.
Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatment that involves applying pressure to specific points on the body. Acupressure has a similar function to acupuncture; however, it is less invasive and trypanophobia-friendly. Two acupressure points are particularly effective for relieving the symptoms of GERD:
Pericardium 6 (PC6): This point is located three finger widths above the wrist crease, between the two tendons. To apply pressure to this point, use your thumb to press and massage it in a circular motion for 3-5 minutes. It helps relieve nausea and vomiting from acid reflux (Alban Acupuncture, 2023).
Conception Vessel 12 (CV12): This point is located three finger widths below the belly button. To apply pressure to this point, use your index and middle fingers to press and massage it in a circular motion for 3-5 minutes. It can alleviate heartburn, bloating, gas, and indigestion (The Green Leaf, 2022).
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a long history of using herbal remedies to treat GERD. Two of the most common TCM herbal formulas for GERD are Sini Powder (SNP) and Zuojin Pill (ZJP) (Li et al., 2020).
Sini Powder (SNP) is used to soothe the Liver and regulate the Spleen/Stomach. It works by relieving the stagnation of the Yang and regulating the Qi.
Zuojin Pill (ZJP) is another traditional Chinese medicine formula used to soothe the Liver, clear heat, reduce adversity, and harmonize the Spleen/Stomach. It works by balancing the Yin and Yang of the body.
Other herbal and natural remedies for GERD include (Harvard Health, 2021):
Chamomile: Chamomile has a soothing effect on the digestive tract and can help to relieve other GERD symptoms.
Ginger: Ginger is an effective remedy for heartburn and can help to reduce stomach acid production.
Peppermint: Peppermint can help to relax the muscles of the digestive tract and can help to relieve heartburn and other GERD symptoms.
Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatment that involves burning mugwort, an herb, over specific points on the body for a few minutes. There are several moxibustion points that are effective for reducing bloating, improving digestion and nutrient absorption, and enhancing the strength of the digestive system (Kauffman, 2019):
Ren 8 (Shang Ju Xu): This point is located in the center of the belly button. It is used to expel cold and improve digestion.
Ren 6 (Qi Hai): This point is located two fingers below the navel. It is used to strengthen the Qi, or life force.
Ren 15 (Jiu Wei): This point is located on the tip of the sternum. It is used to treat GERD and other digestive problems. Patients often notice heartburn symptoms have substantially decreased after a couple of treatments (GinSen, 2023).
Cupping is an ancient Chinese medicine (TCM) therapy that involves placing cups on the skin and creating a vacuum. It can be performed with a handheld suction pump, creating a vacuum without heat. 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 helps remove blood stagnation and toxins, enhance blood circulation, improve metabolism, loosen connective tissue, and stimulate healing (EMW Physiotherapy, 2023). There is some evidence that cupping is a safe and effective treatment for GERD. A study found that cupping effectively reduces heartburn and other GERD symptoms. The study participants received cupping therapy for ten consecutive days. The results showed that cupping therapy effectively reduced heartburn, regurgitation, and chest pain. The participants also reported improved overall quality of life (Zhang et al., 2017).
There are a number of lifestyle changes that can help to manage GERD symptoms (Jensen, Hveem, El-serag, & Lagergren, 2017; NYU Langone Health, n.d), including:
Avoid foods and drinks that trigger GERD: Some common triggers include coffee, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, and carbonated drinks.
Lose weight: If you are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight can help to reduce GERD symptoms.
Eat smaller, more frequent meals: It will help keep your stomach from becoming too full, which can pressure the lower esophageal sphincter and increase the risk of GERD.
Avoid large meals before bedtime: It will prevent bloating and reduce the risk of heartburn.
Elevate the head of your bed: This can help to keep stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus while you sleep.
Quit smoking: Smoking can irritate the esophagus's lining and worsen GERD symptoms.
Wear loose-fitting clothes: Tight-fitting clothes can pressure the stomach and increase the risk of GERD.
Rapha Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinic in Newport Beach that specializes in women's and men's health. We understand that GERD can be a challenging condition to manage. That's why we offer natural and holistic solutions that can help you improve your symptoms and overall health. Our experienced practitioners will work with you to create a customized treatment plan for your needs, including acupuncture, traditional Chinese herbs, and lifestyle changes.
By offering a comfortable and relaxing environment where you can feel safe and supported, we are committed to providing our patients with the highest quality of care. We also offer flexible appointment times to accommodate your busy schedule. If you are looking for a natural and holistic approach to managing GERD, Rapha Acupuncture is the perfect place. Give us a call today!
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Cleveland Clinic. (2019, December 6). Gerd (chronic acid reflux): Symptoms, treatment, & causes. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17019-gerd-or-acid-reflux-or-heartburn-overview
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