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Treating Acid Reflux with Chinese Medicine

According to the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, in 2007, 19 million people in the United States reported symptoms of acid relux, 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) 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 acid reflux 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 underlying 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 that 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 up into the esophagus rather than descending to the small intestine. 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. Herbs that can be used to treat this Stomach Fire include the following:

  • Huang lian, obtained from the rhizome (root structure) of the Chinese goldthread plant, Coptis chinensis. Huang lian is thought to relieve inflammation of the intestines, reduce heat in the blood, and generally cool the stomach.
  • Lu gen, obtained from the rhizome of the Phragmites communis (reed) plant, that draws heat from the stomach.
  • Shi gao, a form of gypsum (calcium sulfate), that clears heat and fire from the stomach;
  • Zhi mu, rhizomes of the Anemarrhena asphodeloides plant, that provide a cooling effect on the stomach.
  • Zhu ru, shavings from the Arundinaria japonica (bamboo) plant, that clears heat from the stomach.

The second cause for acid reflux is said to be an imbalance in the liver. One function of the liver, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is to ensure a proper flow of qi (body energy) throughout all parts of the body. Qi flows through specific pathways, known as meridians, to ensure that all organs of the body are functioning properly. If the liver does not function as it is supposed to, medical problems can develop anywhere in the body. Acid reflux is such a problem.
Again, a variety of herbs can be used to treat acid reflux caused by a liver imbalance, including:

  • Bai shao, root of the white peony (Paeonia lactiflora), chosen for its ability to calm the liver;
  • Chai hu, root of the Chinese thorowax (Bupleurum chinensis), to stimulate movement of qi in the liver;
  • Fang feng, root of the Ledebouriellae divaricatae plant, which expels wind from the body and produces a balance between liver and spleen;
  • Mu xiang, costus root (Aucklanida costus), to promote movement of qi and strengthen the spleen;
  • Xiang fu, rhizome of the Chinese nutgrass (Cyperus rotundus), which regulates qi in the liver and promotes the circulation of qi.

Combining acupuncture with Chinese herbal formulas is recommended as these medicines can be used to cool the Stomach Fire or to regulate the overbearing Liver energy. For most who suffer with GERD regaining a balanced and healthy digestive system includes dietary, lifestyle changes, exercising regularly and learning relaxation techniques. Lifestyle recommendations include: quitting smoking, eliminating or reducing alcohol, refraining from eating before going to bed, avoiding fast foods, and 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.

By Mortin - Copyright 2009
Last modification 17/09/2010

Treating Acid Reflux with Chinese Medicine

Source: Richters- Chinese Herbs for Acid Reflux