So many people have trouble with acid reflux. In fact, about a third of Americans are on some type of acid blocker—you might recognize names such as Prilosec, Zantac, or Prevacid. It can range from annoying to uncomfortable to super painful and even though a lot of us struggle with it, it’s not something you want to brush off. It can be a very serious condition and if it’s left unchecked for too long it can not only damage your esophagus—it can lead to esophageal cancer.
Senia’s Reflux Story
I know, I know, you know what’s coming next: Acupuncture can help! But I can really speak from experience on this one—after years of suffering, I actually sought acupuncture treatment for my reflux. I have had reflux since I was a kid—and I knew it, but didn’t have a name for it. I had bad breath and didn’t know what to do about it. I can remember a day that my dad dropped me off at school and told me that I needed to brush my teeth better. I was totally mortified, of course, and what he didn’t know was that I had just brushed my teeth before we got in the car! I continued to have horrible reflux in my twenties, so I was embarrassed about it for a good decade before I got help. In college, I went on medication, but it didn’t really make it go away—it just took the edge off. I didn’t want to be on the medication forever, because at the time we didn’t know, but I suspected, there could be long-term side effects and I didn’t want to risk those.
And now we know there are some very serious side effects. If you’re on these drugs for long periods of time, they can actually leach calcium from your bones, causing osteopenia or osteoporosis. We also know reflux can run in families, too, from not only a hereditary perspective, but also a diet one. My dad had horrible reflux—his lower esophageal sphincter wouldn’t close all the way and he even has had multiple surgeries to fix it. So it’s not something to take lightly—but there are side effects to consider.
Acupuncture is a way you can heal this problem so you don’t have to rely on medications, but also don’t have to suffer from the disease.
What is acid reflux?
In some cases, it’s excess acid production, which is often called heartburn.
Reflux causes acid to rise up into your esophagus. It’s generally much more extreme than heartburn in and of itself, and over time, can cause erosion and damage to your esophagus.
The cause is a weak lower esophageal sphincter. A sphincter is a closure muscle. After you swallow, it should close to keep the food in your stomach, but it can be stuck open or open easily, allowing food to rise up into your esophagus.
What are symptoms of acid reflux?
- Burning sensations in your stomach, chest, or throat
- Oftentimes you may have a bad, sour, or bitter taste in your mouth
- Bad breath, and a need to chew gum or suck on mints all the time
- Stomach pain, which ranges from sever or burning stomach pain to the sensation of the burning rising up your throat
- Lump in your throat that never seems to go away
- Nausea or trouble swallowing (like you have to focus to help food go down)
Acid reflux can worsen with:
- Spicy food
- Acidic food
- Drinking a lot of caffeine (I would often have a plate of spaghetti and follow it up with a Coke, which is the worst thing you can do with reflux!)
- Excess carbs, dairy, and sugar can also contribute significantly
The Chinese Medicine Take on Acid Reflux
If you really like to know the ins and outs of how diagnoses work, read on! If not, feel free to skip ahead to how we treat acid reflux.
In Chinese medicine, acid reflux is always due to Counterflow Stomach Qi. Meaning: your stomach energy is sending its contents upwards rather than downwards.
There are a few causes of Counterflow Stomach Qi:
If you eat too many high-carb foods they sit in the stomach, gather fluids, and create Dampness. This Dampness blocks the stomach and prevents it from emptying and can create fullness that forces food upward. Plus, anything that sits in the stomach can ferment and turn to Heat, which can increase acid production and send that upward too.
Also, if stress is a big issue for you, your reflux could be caused by the Liver Invading the Stomach. You may remember when we discussed in our IBS month that the Liver can invade the Spleen. Well, in this case the Liver is invading the Stomach! Stress causes clenching in the abdomen and under the ribs, which can then be transferred to the stomach and causes acid and food to be pressed upward.
And then sometimes you just have excess Stomach Fire: That is, you’re taking in so much fire from spicy, acidic food that it creates tons of excess acid. And that acid has nowhere to go but up.
Curing Acid Reflux with Chinese Medicine
Imagine your world without Prevacid, Zantac or Prilosec. AND without heartburn or acid reflux. It isn’t just a fantasy. Chinese medicine is an effective form of treatment for the disease, and by getting to the root of the problem we can actually solve it, rather than mask it with other things, preventing you from larger, more dangerous diseases down the road.
Remember I said on Monday that what Western medicine doctors will say is the culprit behind your acid reflux is your lower esophageal sphincter, which is too weak and opening too easily. This allows the contents of your stomach and digestive track to rise upwards.
That’s not unlike what Chinese medicine practitioners think, but we treat it differently because we have the therapies to do so. Here’s a few approaches we use:
We use needles to stimulate the area near the lower esophageal sphincter to relax it and help it re-learn how to close properly. That’s a really, really important treatment that most other therapies can’t really do—certainly none that Western medicine doctors do. We also have points and meridians we can treat on the arms and legs for additional help.
When people have surgery for this, the surgeon takes the stomach and wraps it around the base of esophagus to close that sphincter off. But we can try to repair with needles. No surgery required!
We also use needles to help the stomach to empty properly, which helps keep anything from rising upward. It clears any Dampness or Fire brewing there, and then we redirect the Stomach Qi back downward, instead of the upward path it’s been taking.
Acid reflux is a disease that is exacerbated by stress, and acupuncture has that extra bonus of decreasing stress levels, so you alleviate any extra pressure on the stomach.
The name says it all: Gastroquell! I love this formula, which is a standard for quelling gastric acid production and the sensation of food and acid rising up the throat.
Herbs are really great, because by taking them, you are retraining your stomach on how to work properly. And once your stomach is working well again, you don’t have to keep taking herbs. Unlike drugs.
No one ever really wants to change their diet drastically, but there are a few obvious things we can adjust to make sure we’re giving your body the rest it needs. We would make sure you are decreasing your intake of spicy, hot peppers, garlic, and ginger. We would cut the big acidic foods, especially tomatoes and oranges (and their accompanying sauces and juices).
But the one that might surprise you: We’d decrease the carbs you are eating. We see carbs as a group of foods that sits and ferments in your gut, which is causing pressure.
Now, if you’re going: “I’m not giving up spaghetti!” I just want you to know that food therapy is not just about what to stop eating. I also want to arm you with some awesome foods to eat so that you can get back on the path to health and remember what it feels like to feel good! (You might surprise yourself and not miss that big plate of spaghetti when you realize how crummy it makes you feel.) I counsel people to eat cooling vegetables, such as celery and cucumber and lettuces. These cool your stomach down and balance acid production. Also adding more bitter foods, such as leafy green vegetables, romaine or arugula, can really help.
If you’re ready to feel the relief, give us a call or set up a time to come in. We’d love to help you find the right combination of acupuncture, herbs and food therapy that can give you lasting relief without medications!