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Natural Awakenings Austin

Keep Acid Reflux Away with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Apr 30, 2017 04:08PM

by Haitao Cao

Those with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), commonly known as acid reflux, know the symptoms all too well: a sour or bitter taste in the mouth, a burning sensation in the throat or burning pains in the chest. The gastric acid plays an important role in breaking down food and killing bacteria, and in healthy individuals, it stays in the stomach and intestine. However, some people with a weak sphincter muscle at the lower end of esophagus may experience a backward flow of stomach acid.

Today’s modern eating habits, along with rushed, stressful lifestyles cause people to consume deep-fried fast food, processed food, caffeine and alcohol. Desserts and acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes and cranberry juice consumed on an empty stomach can trigger stomach acid secretion. Keeping track of heartburn-triggering food and drink and avoiding those things can help. There are also Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and natural techniques to keep acid reflux away, without having to reach for antacids.

The TCM View on Acid Reflux

TCM philosophy considers that acid reflux might be related to stress, binge eating or weak gastrointestinal function (GI). Studies shows that emotional stress could increase stomach acid production and abnormal function of sphincter muscle. In TCM, the liver might affect stomach function under pressure. These symptoms include a bitter taste in mouth, dry cough, excessive gastric acid secretion and irritable moods. Also, according to TCM, skipping meals and then eating a huge meal at the end of the day— known as binge eating— can damage stomach function and harm the spleen, which represents the digestive system. Studies show that skipping meals could increase gastric pressure and worsen acid reflux.

Last but not least, TCM believes that weak GI function is correlated to a weakened spleen and stomach. A weak digestive system could be constitutional or from long-term poor eating patterns. Besides heartburn and coughing, patients may also have abdominal bloating, gas or indigestion.

Five Natural, TCM Remedies to Curb Acid Reflux

  • Have dinner two hours before going to bed. The body takes hours to digest foods—especially longer for protein and fats. Give the stomach some time to empty before lying down. Walking after a meal also helps.
  • Cut down coffee, alcohol, deepfried foods, doughnuts and dessert. These foods and drinks irritate lining of stomach and aggravate acid reflux symptoms. Cut down the ones that trigger acid reflux symptoms.
  • Avoid acidic foods on an empty stomach. Soda, tomatoes, cranberry juice and citrus fruits are acidic and more likely to cause heartburn. If one desires soda or lemonade, take a few bite of a sandwich first. Eating grilled chicken before a bowl of tomato soup can ease stomach acid backup.
  • Try the baking soda or ginger remedy. When heartburn flares up, mix one tablespoon of baking soda with a half cup of water. This is a natural way to neutralize gastric acid. However, if one has high blood pressure or is on a salt-restricted diet, consult a doctor first. Ginger root is also a TCM herb that balances the digestive system and establishes a stronger stomach.
  • Don’t skip meals. Frequent smaller meals are easier to digest than large portions of food. Eat snacks like lightly salted nuts or crackers.

Chinese herbs such as ginger, cuttlefish bone, Thunberg Fritillary Bulb, licorice and ginseng can be custom prescribed based on patients’ conditions. Gong Ying Baiji cream can also be used, and the clinical efficacy rate is more than 90 percent.

TCM effectively treats acid reflux based on symptom differentiation. Treatment protocols would be different in stress-related heartburn for patients with weakened stomachs. Acupuncture boosts and balances the digestive system while relaxing the body and mind. Acupuncture focuses on specific points to help the spleen and stomach. Treat those points once a day for up to 30 minutes.

Dr. Haitao Cao is a licensed acupuncturist with Texas Health and Science University Clinic, located at 1707 Fortview Rd., Austin. For more information or to make an appointment, call 512-445- 2222 or visit

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