After food enters your mouth you chew and then swallow. The food travels down your throat, into your esophagus, through the lower esophageal sphincter and then into your stomach where it mixes with acid and bile. When properly functioning, the lower esophageal sphincter only opens in one direction (into the stomach). Unfortunately, the body does not always function the way it should and sometimes acid and bile from the stomach can go up through the sphincter into the esophagus. This is known as acid reflux. Sometimes acid reflux is painless, other times it is not. The painful feeling of the acid in our esophagus is called heartburn.
How do I know if I have GERD?
Only your doctor can diagnosis you with GERD and if you are experiencing acid reflux and/or heartburn frequently you should go see him or her as soon as you can. Some symptoms of GERD include heartburn, chest pain, nausea after eating, feeling too full after meals, coughing, bitter taste in mouth, asthma, vomiting and regurgitation. Because of the frequency of the acid reflux, the lining of the esophagus can also become eroded and cancer of the esophagus can become a concern.
Treatment options: Western vs. Eastern
The western treatment of heartburn includes acid blockers and antacids such as Prilosec, Prevacid or Tums. These drugs are not cures and only mask the symptoms without addressing the cause. They can also cause unwanted side effects including abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and headaches. Symptoms can even become worse after discontinued use.
In Traditional Chinese medicine, acid reflux is related to a dysfunction in the stomach meridian. The stomach meridian begins around the eyes and travels downward through the heart and stomach and finishes at the second toe. When the stomach qi starts traveling upward, (as it does during acid reflux) there is a pathology in the stomach meridian. Acupuncture works to help direct stomach qi back downward and correct the pathology. Heartburn can also be related to the heart meridian. If the heart meridian is involved, the acid reflux will more likely be caused by stress or have an emotional component. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture do not have any negative side effects and can reduce your heartburn in just one treatment.
- Try using Probiotics: Many of my patients have had great success in treating their heartburn with a teaspoon of liquid probiotics everyday. (About $12 at local health food store. Ask for liquid)
- Don’t eat less than two hours before bed
- Skip dessert and coffee
- Avoid strenuous activity before bed
- Avoid night caps
- Lose weight: Excess weight adds pressure to the valve
- Quit Smoking: Smoking can weaken valve between esophagus and stomach- nicotine weakens sphincter
- Skip after-dinner mint: Mints may relax valve at top of stomach
- Keep a food diary: This can help you realize your heartburn food triggers
- Wear loose fitting clothing
- Try chewing gum: It increases saliva and swallowing, washing acid out of esophagus
- Foods to avoid: Caffeine, garlic, onions, peppermint, alcohol, chocolate, tomatoes, fried or fatty foods.
- Try Acupressure: Having a flareup between treatments? Ask your acupuncturist to show you these two important points and massage for 5 minutes to help reduce heartburn immediately!