Acid reflux or GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a digestive disorder where the stomach juices and bile regurgitate back up into the esophagus. The stomach has a special lining to protect itself from the harsh acidity of these juices but the esophagus does not. Heartburn is the term for the burning sensation in the esophagus when acid reflux happens. The painful burning is usually felt in the middle of the chest, just behind the breastbone.
The physical cause for acid reflux is a relaxation of the sphincter muscle that separates the stomach from the esophagus. The most likely cause of this is an overly full stomach. However, acid reflux can be triggered by many things including alcoholic or carbonated beverages, eating too fast or too much, eating fatty or spicy foods, drinking too much caffeine, or eating too much high-fiber foods. Heartburn has also been shown to be worsened by anxiety and depression.
How Can Acupuncture Treat Acid Reflux?
While the practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine have been using acupuncture to treat digestive disorders for thousands of years, the American Physiological Society has just reported on a study that will appear in the August 2006 issue of Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. The study indicates that stimulation of certain acupuncture points inhibits the esophageal sphincter relaxation by as much as 40%. Modern science is getting closer to explaining how acupuncture works, but what no one can deny in the present is that it does work and very well.
An acupuncture treatment is very relaxing and surprisingly enjoyable for people who are apprehensive about needles. The tiny, cat-whisker sized needles are inserted very quickly and easily into different parts of the body. For upper GI complaints, points are likely to be above the belly button, on your lower arms and lower legs and possibly on your back or head as well. Sometimes electrical stimulation is used on certain points to achieve the desired effect. This is a very light stimulation added to the needles which feels like a comfortable pulsing or tapping sensation.
What About my Diet and Eating Habits?
When a patient comes in with the chief complaint of heart burn, the acupuncturist will do a detailed health history and discuss eating habits and diet thoroughly. Modifications in those areas are likely to be necessary such as chewing food well, taking more time to eat rather than rushing, eating smaller portions, eliminating acidic foods and alcohol temporarily, etc. Your acupuncturist can also come up with some sample menu items or grocery lists if diet changes are needed. Healthy digestion also depends on overall good health habits such as moderate regular exercise and at least the minimum amount of sleep.