For some people, eating a heavy, spicy or fatty meal can produce the unmistakable signs of acid reflux. Symptoms can vary from a burning pain in the chest to a sour taste in the mouth as stomach acid and/or regurgitated food flows upward through the esophagus into the oral cavity. Although some may refer to these symptoms collectively as heartburn, the process is the same no matter what it is called.
Once food is chewed and swallowed, it goes down the esophagus, passed a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, which connects with the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter is a compact ring of muscles designed to stay shut unless it is needed to relax slightly in order for food and fluid to pass downwards, or to let air (burps) out. It is when the lower esophageal sphincter loses its ability to open and shut properly that regurgitated food or other substances (e.g. bile) can rise and be expelled through the mouth.
In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, there are others:
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Sore throat
- Dry, rough voice
- Feeling of a lump in the throat that cannot be cleared away
It is estimated that more than 20 percent of the general population is affected by acid reflux. While other groups are impacted, at least half of all asthmatic children experience symptoms, and pregnant women tend to suffer more than the average population, with half reporting severe symptoms during their second and third trimesters.
While it's true for some people that symptoms can be mild or pass quickly, others go on to experience more severe ones. Sometimes, symptoms of acid reflux can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. This includes severe chest pain and a crushing sensation in the chest. Also of concern is the presence of black, tarry stools or black material in vomit. These are signs of bleeding in the stomach, a serious medical concern.
An acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner may recognize the symptoms of acid reflux as relating to the stomach organ. Two examples of diagnoses would be rebellious stomach Qi and food accumulation in the stomach. Qi is a vital energy necessary for all life to exist. Both these diagnoses call for an acupuncture treatment that will redirect energy downwards, as should naturally happen just after eating or drinking. Rebellious stomach Qi is a perfect description for some of the symptoms of acid reflux.
The stomach, according to the philosophy of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, is needed to ripen and rot food. After this process of fermentation occurs, only then may the nutrients be extracted during the next phase of digestion. Without strong stomach Qi, issues regarding malnutrition may arise. This is why an acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner will need to evaluate a patient with acid reflux and address any nutritional deficiencies that may be present. Diet is very important in helping to calm symptoms.
Fermented foods such like sauerkraut, Kimchi, pickles and umeboshi plums can help with controlling acid production in the stomach. Kefir and plain yogurt are excellent sources of probiotics, the 'good' microorganisms your body needs for proper digestion. Lean meats are preferable to fatty ones. For a sweet treat, try bananas or melons, as these fruits are low in acid.
Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help manage your symptoms!
About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.