When talking about gastro-esophageal reflux disease, the most common condition we associate it with is heartburn. Heartburn is an acidic sensation in the breastbone that seems to travel all the way to the throat.
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease or GERD is a chronic case of acid reflux. Acid reflux, on the other hand, is a condition in which acid and stomach contents tend to flow back into the esophagus all the way to the throat. This is caused by a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter. The heartburn may also lead to excessive production of saliva. GERD can result in complications such as ulceration, esophageal stricture, and a pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. The inflammation of the esophageal wall can result in bleeding and pain during swallowing.
GERD can cause symptoms that may include a bitter taste in the mouth, coughing, burping, nausea and respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma. Doctors may recommend diagnostic examinations such as a visual test using a flexible tube), esophagoscopy, and x-rays as well as acidity tests, biopsies and other tests to measure the lower esophageal sphincter. You need to undergo an exhaustive diagnosis to make sure you aren’t suffering from any heart condition, respiratory disease, or complications.
Lifestyle recommendations to treat heartburn and GERD include cutting down on or totally avoiding alcohol, smoking cessation, exercise, stress reduction, sleeping on your left side, and raising the head of your bed with foam wedges or 3-6 inch blocks or foam wedges to elevate your body from the waist up. It’s important to eat before going to sleep. In the daytime, it is advisable to eat four to six small meals a day instead of the conventional two or three large meals. You also need to avoid fish oil supplements, peppermint, garlic, beverages, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and dairy products as these are all triggers for GERD.
Medical doctors, particularly gastroenterologists, address GERD by prescribing acid blocking medications such as Prevacid and Prilosec or antacids. Expect side-effects such as nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea and headaches from these medications. In addition to that, once you stop using these medications, the condition remains untreated and the symptoms can even get worse. Lastly, it is important to note that GERD patients who have taken Prilosec for many years have noticed an erosion of the lining of their abdomen.
You can try a rotation diet to know what foods to avoid. Hormones and medications such as asthma drugs, calcium channel blockers, NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) and aspirin can cause reflux.
Based on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory, heartburn is often the result of eating the wrong foods and severe emotional stress. TCM practitioners believe acid reflux is the result of rising rebellious qi that normally should be descending. Fortunately TCM offers a number of herbal treatments that can be used to complement the aforementioned dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
For GERD and heartburn, a popular Chinese herbal formula known as chai hu mu li long gu tang is usually prescribed by practitioners. This formula is composed of several ingredients including saussurea (mu hsiang), rhubarb (da wang), cinnamon (gui shi), scute (wang chin), pinellia (ban hsia), ginger (gan jiang), ginseng (ren shen), bupleurum (tsai hu), dragonbone (long gu) and oyster shell (mu lee).
To help redirect rebellious qi into a downward movement and to neutralize acidity, dragonbone and oyster shell are used. To quell inflammation, bupleurum is prescribed. This ingredient also helps harmonize chi. The ingredient used to guide chi or qi downward is rhubarb. Scute has antibiotic properties. Saussurea helps harmonize qi flow. Ginger and ginseng relieve nausea and tonify the digestive system respectively. Pinellia, helps clear phlegm and harmonizes qi.
TCM practitioners usually recommend combining mentha (bo he), citrus (dzu hong), halloysite (chi, shi his), chrysanthemum (chu hwa), trichosanthes root (chan hwa fen), oryza (guy a), pogostemon (hu hsiang), sausurrea, red atractylodes (cang hsu), pueraria (de gen), angelica (bai hsi), magnolia (hou po), shen chu, coix (yi yi ren), and poria (fu ling) with chai hu mu li long gu tang to address food stagnation.
A herbal remedy known as yue zhu wan composed of massa fermentata extract (shen chu), gardenia fruit (zhi hsi), cyperus rhizome (hsiang fu), ligsuticum root (chuan hsiong) and red atractylodes root combined with chai hu mu li long gu tang can treat emotional distress related to GERD. For copious phlegm symptom, a phlegm formula known as wen den tang made up of licorice (gan cao), acorus (shi chang po), agastache (huo hsiang), arisaema (tian nan hsing), bamboo shavings (zhu ru), aurantum (zhi shi), poria, citru peel (chen pi), and pinella can be combined with chai hu mu li long gu tang is recommended.
For acid regurgitation, red tongue and a rapid pulse, a coptis formula is recommended. This formula is made up of sophora (cu shen), licorice, gardenia, forsythia, (lian chao), gentian (long dan cao), plantago seed (che chan his), alisma (hse hsie), phellodendron (wang bai), scute, akebia (mu tong), anemarrhena (zhi mu), peony root (bai zhao), tang kuei, rehmannia (sheng di wang), bupleurum, lophaterum (dan hsu ye), and coptis (wang lian).
Dr. Yelena Pakula is a licensed acupuncture doctor and the medical director of Vita-Health Acupuncture and Wellness Center in Pembroke Pines, FL.