Unlike western doctors, Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM, practitioners don’t treat all people who have GERD with similar medications. TCM practitioners focus on the individual patient and getting to the cause of distress.
Here is an example. Mary went to her TCM doctor. The expert knew that most people who suffer from GERD, suffer from energy disturbances within the digestive system. Mary’s doctor obtained a detailed history from her. The doctor also conducted a physical examination using TCM diagnostic techniques. Unlike most people who suffer from GERD, the TCM expert realized that Mary’s symptoms were slightly different than most individuals have. The doctor determined that Mary had an uncommon energy disturbance, which was creating distress. As a result, the TCM doctor modified Mary’s herbal prescription. Within days of beginning the treatment Mary’s symptoms resolved. It is likely that Mary’s symptoms would have persisted or worsened if the TCM expert gave her a standard herbal blend. According to Chinese medicine, getting to the root of problems and individualizing treatment protocols are essential to effective treatment of GERD. Let’s look into this a bit more.
Western physicians would agree that weight, diet, and stress contribute to Heartburn. Like western medical doctors, TCM practitioners rely on obtaining a detailed history and conducting a physical examination to make a diagnosis. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners and conventional western health care providers agree that resolving obesity, decreasing stress, and making healthy dietary choices are essential for reducing symptoms of GERD.
TCM experts differentiate between five primary types of GERD, while western providers do not differentiate types. TCM practitioners focus on treating the patient as a whole. On the other hand, western medical providers select treatments which emphasize symptom management and disease control.
TCM practitioners believe that reflux is a result of energy, Qi, rising through the esophagus instead of traveling downwards via the small intestine. They base their beliefs on a complex system of energy, which includes invisible pathways, and qualities such as hot, cold, moist, and dry. Many cases of Acid Reflux are believed by TCM to be caused by combinations of energy imbalances. For example, stagnation of energy within the liver combined with cool moisture within the spleen results in excess moisture and heat building up in the stomach. Stomach acid and contents back up into the esophagus as a consequence of the energy disturbance.
During a precise history taking and physical examination, TCM practitioners evaluate a patient’s, baseline characteristics, lifestyle, diet, energy patterns, and stress levels. Diverse qualities, including those that may not initially seem to be related to GERD, are evaluated. The exam involves techniques such as detailed pulse diagnosis and precise tongue evaluation, which is not employed by western practitioners. By using accurate diagnostic techniques, TCM practitioners can determine what type of disturbance is occurring. A precisely targeted treatment plan is developed after symptoms are categorized, and the problem identified. Treatments often include lifestyle modifications, herbal therapies, nutritional guidance, and the use of acupuncture.
TCM teaches that every herb has specific energetic qualities. The qualities of a dried plant may be different than that of a fresh one. A root of a plant may have different energetics than its leaves, according to TCM. A herb may be drying or moisturizing. Depending upon the person’s symptoms and the TCM practitioner’s assessment, a precise herbal prescription is formulated. The blend may change as healing occurs. Many of the herbs used by TCM practitioners are the same plants that western herbalists employ to treat GERD. They are often soothing, anti-inflammatory nourishing, antispasmodic, relaxing herbs.
I find this interesting. As a western herbalist, I would choose similar herbs to treat GERD. However, I would be choosing them by their actions while a TCM expert would choose the same herbs based upon energetics.
TCM experts use a wide array of herbs to treat GERD based upon individual needs. Yarrow is drying and facilitates healing of raw tissues. Slippery elm and Marshmallow provide comforting barriers from stomach acid. Plants that contain berberine are drying, anti-inflammatory and healing. These include gold thread, barberry, Oregon grape root, and goldenseal. In addition to herbs, TCM experts may animal based ingredients, such as powdered sea shells. These are rich in minerals that facilitate healing and correct energy imbalances. A blend may include components, which don’t directly address GERD symptoms, but can relax, support digestion, and more.
Several studies have proven the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of GERD. Studies indicate that symptoms remain resolved even after treatment stops. Different types of acupuncture, including needleless electro-acupuncture, have been found useful. Some of the studies have had their findings verified by laboratory and imaging tests in addition to patient reports.
Studies indicate that acupuncture in combination with Chinese herbal medicines is as effective or better than commonly prescribed proton pump inhibitors and antacid regimes which are standard among western medical doctors. Experts are not sure how acupuncture relieves GERD. Multiple ideas have been proposed, but no definitive conclusions have been reached.
While more research is needed, TCM offers viable solutions for treating Acid Reflux. I think that diagnosis by a TCM practitioner in addition to a western medical doctor is important. Benefits of the TCM approach include lasting effects, safety, the potential for a healthier lifestyle and freedom from untoward side effects of conventional western pharmaceuticals.