Quell the Pain of Reflux with Chinese Medicine

Reflux is a common digestive problem that can cause burning pain in your chest or abdomen.  Also known as heartburn or indigestion, reflux occurs when acid escapes from the stomach, damaging the the tissues of your oesophagus.  Other common symptoms include chest pain, a sour or acidic taste in the mouth, a chronic cough and sore throat. If you have reflux more than a couple of times a week, you may be diagnosed with Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disorder (GORD).  


Reflux is uncomfortable and distressing, affecting all aspects of your life including socialising, sleep and exercise.  If left unattended, reflux can also lead to permanent damage and other complications. With a combination of acupuncture, herbs, lifestyle and diet changes, Chinese medicine can help to manage the symptoms of reflux, regulate the nervous system and support normal digestive function.


Between your stomach and oesophagus is a valve, the lower oesophageal sphincter, whose role is to keep the acid and digestive enzymes in your stomach from flowing upwards.  Relaxation or weakening of the valve will allow acid to flow into the oesophagus, causing burning and pain. A variety of triggers can cause this weakening, including medication, pregnancy, caffeine, alcohol and smoking.   Stress is also known to worsen the pain of reflux.


Gastroparesis, a slowing of the emptying of the stomach, is a common cause of heartburn.  You may also experience bloating, nausea, vomiting and a poor appetite. Gastroparesis can result from physical damage to the vagus nerve, a nerve that controls digestive function, but for most people the cause is unknown.  


People with reflux or other gastrointestinal dysfunctions can also experience a persistent feeling of something being stuck in their throat.  Known in Western medicine as globus pharyngeus and in Chinese medicine as plum stone throat, the feeling can also be scratchy or tight, despite the fact that there is nothing there.  Tissue damage, muscle spasms and inflammation from acid reflux can cause the stuck feeling. Anxiety is another common cause. People who are anxious often have a heightened sensitivity to physical sensations or become panicked or fearful of choking.  


Chinese medicine and acupuncture have been used to address digestive problems for thousands of years, but the exact mechanism of action is still largely a mystery.  Acupuncture is thought to regulate the digestive system via its effects on the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is also known as the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” system. This part of our nervous system is most active when we are relaxed, and regulates our digestion, reproduction, heart rate and healing.  


Good health starts with good digestion.  Chinese medicine has a long history of promoting normal digestive function, supporting the body’s innate healing mechanisms and encouraging health and vitality.