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Acupuncture and Herbs for Acid Reflux

Posted Apr 06 2012 12:17am

A few years ago, at a wedding, I was served the most delicious lasagne. I love lasagne, and it was a nice change from the usual chicken-breast-and-rice routine that usually comes at these events.

When I mentioned it to the bride, she said “Yeah, lasagne’s my favorite. I almost never have it — I avoid tomato sauce — and I know I’m going to be up all night with heartburn, but I figure it’s worth it.” And then she was off again, greeting other guests. Clearly, she was used to making this kind of rotten choice — miss out on your favorite celebration food, or have stomach pain on your wedding night. But it still made me a little sad.

(And, yes, I did think about offering her acupuncture, but she was already gone. And besides, I hear it’s tacky to recruit business at a wedding reception.)

Estimates are that 10-20% of Westerners have acid reflux. Besides being uncomfortable, it can actually cause major health problems, especially in the throat and esophagus.

Western medicine treats reflux with medications that suppress the stomach acid in order to reduce symptoms. Over time, the stomach compensates, leading to a need for higher dosages, and an increased “rebound” effect between doses. And, actually, we need our stomach acid. We use it to digest food and and kill germs. Long-term use of these medications can cause malabsorption of nutrients, osteoporosis, and increased bacterial infections in the gut.

In Chinese medicine, acid reflux falls under the category of “rebellious qi”. I love this!. The Stomach Qi is supposed to move downward, toward the intestines. If it goes upward instead (as in reflux, vomiting, hiccuping, or even belching), it’s being “rebellious” and needs to be subdued.

Acupuncture and herbs can offer quick relief of symptoms. Treatment will also focus on the underlying cause so that results, over time, become more stable. This may include clearing heat from the stomach; directing digestive energy downward; strengthening the systems that regulate the flow of energy in the body; and toning the muscles around the cardiac sphincter to keep acid in the stomach where it belongs.

Herbal medicine is particularly helpful in mellowing out the rebound effect that occurs as people taper off antacid medications.

Over time, many people are able to get complete relief from reflux symptoms, without medication, even after they stop acupuncture and herbal treatment. Please call me or email with any questions!

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