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Acupuncture and Acid Reflux – Acid reflux is one of the most common digestive complaints treated in hospitals and clinics nationwide. It occurs when the ring of muscle just above the stomach allows acids back up into esophagus. This ring of muscle is a valve that opens to allow food into the stomach and immediately closes once food passes to keep it from flowing back. It is known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

Acid reflux, also known as pyrosis or indigestion, is commonly brought about by overeating or eating certain types of foods which may include mint, chocolate, citrus, garlic, tomato, onions, peppers or food with a lot of spice or fat. Stomach acids released from the stomach travel to the lungs and throat. This is felt through symptoms such as the burning sensation felt in the upper abdomen commonly referred to as heartburn, acid eructation and general distress in the upper abdomen felt as chest pain.

Acid reflux can be defined as the clinical condition known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) when the acid reflux occurs more than twice within a week. In 2006, the Montreal definition for the disease was published; it defines acid reflux (GERD) as upsetting complications or symptoms caused by gastro-oesoageal reflux. This can lead to other serious medical problems such as Barrett’s oesophagus, oesophageal stricture or gastrointestinal bleeding for people affected chronically.

Luckily, Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupuncture and the use of Chinese herbs, has proven to be a reliable treatment alternative for acid reflux. Before we delve into the success of TCM with acid reflux, let’s learn a little bit more about this condition we call acid reflux.

Prevalence of Acid Reflux

According to findings by El-Serag HB et al. (2004), the symptoms commonly associated with acid reflux are felt on a daily basis by 4-10% of the population in Western countries. A further 10-30% of the population experiences such symptoms on a weekly basis. The review also found that the condition affects about 5 in every 1000 people across America.

According to statics by the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 60 million Americans experience the most common symptoms such as heart burn at least once in a month. 15 million of Americans are affected by heartburn on a daily basis.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux

A review by Klauser AG et al. places heartburn and regurgitation as two of the most identifiable symptoms for GERD. Though they are the two most known signs of the condition, they are not as serious as other symptoms that may be felt as a result of acid reflux.

Other symptoms such as nausea, epigastric pain, bloating, dyspepsia and belching are some of the uncommon symptoms that overlap with the symptoms for a number of other gut abnormalities such as achalasia, aseptic ulcer disease, dyspepsia, gastritis and gastroparesis.

In their review of the condition, Hom C and Vaezi MF (2013) also noted some extrasophageal symptoms such as;

  • Laryngitis
  • Asthma
  • Dental erosion
  • Chronic cough

Causes of Acid Reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux is a common occurrence that is even termed as functional. Everyone experiences it at one point or another. However, the reflux does not occur often for the normal person since there is a barrier existing between the esophagus and the stomach that functions very effectively.

First off, food goes down the esophagus efficiently due to salivary production and peristalsis. This is assisted by the diaphragm, the Gubaroff valve, lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the His angle and the phrenoesophageal membrane, which combine to form the valve mechanism that keeps food in the stomach.

Any of the organs working to prevent acid reflux can cause the condition due to some type of failure. According to Diener U et al. (2001), low amplitude peristalsis which is basically slower propagation of the peristaltic waves is the main cause for acid reflux in about 40% to 50% of patients. Such patients are likely to suffer acute mucosal injury which may also include Barrett’s esophagus. These patients also have esophageal symptoms such as cough, as per Meneghetti AT et al. (2005).

A hiatal hernia is the most common cause of acid reflux and occurs when the LES and the upper part of the stomach, which should be below the diaphragm, shift and move above it. The muscle keeps the stomach separate from the chest and typically helps keep acid in the stomach. People with a hiatal hernia are likely to have acids move up their esophagus thus bringing on symptoms of acid reflux.

Western treatments of the condition

Acid reflux is a recurrent disease that can be managed through lifestyle changes as well as medical therapy. For some patients, treatment may require surgical therapy. The classes of medication used for treatment of acid reflux include histamine-receptor antagonists, antacids or proton-pump inhibitors (PPI). These can be used to reduce the acidity of the refluxate though it does nothing to stop the regurgitation of stomach contents through an inept LES. However, in their study, Vela and colleagues demonstrated that medication such as Baclofen reduces the regurgitation of stomach contents due to an incapable LES-Vela MF et al. (2003).

TCM and acupuncture for acid reflux

Acupuncture has been shown to be a safe and effective method of treating the stomach abnormality, which affects scores of people daily.

A study by Xhang CX et al. in which 60 patients diagnosed with acid reflux took part demonstrated the clinical efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of acid reflux. Therapy went on for a span of 1 week, in which patients received acupuncture at several acupoints such as Zhongwan (CV12), Neiguan (P6) and Sanyinjiao (SP6). The study showed that acupuncture could effectively prevent intraesophageal bile and acid reflux for GERD patients.

Takahashi T from the Department of Surgery at Duke University Medical Center has also demonstrated how acupuncture could be used to safely alleviate the symptoms of GERD among other gastrointestinal conditions. Acupuncture at ST-36 showed an improvement in test subjects with a problem with peristaltic movement. It was also demonstrated that acupuncture at CV-12 stops the secretion of gastric acid from the somatosympathetic passage.

There are many clinical trials currently underway to show that acupuncture functions effectively for many types of gastrointestinal abnormalities. Acupuncture, a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine is expected to be part of the mainstream treatment of such conditions in the near future.

If you’re suffering with acid reflux do yourself a favor and take advantage of the free consultations we offer daily at our Boca Raton Acupuncture clinic. We have helped many of our patients suffering with acid reflux ad we are confident we can help you too.



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