Acid reflux is sometimes called heart burn and can affect up to 20 % of the population. Who hasn’t heard of Quick-Eze which has been on the market for decades and which basically contains three ingredients calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate and magnesium trisilicate that neutralise stomach acids. Ironically, examples of Chinese medicines such as mu li and wa leng zi also contain constituents of calcium and magnesium and have been used for thousands of years to address stomach acid issues.
Medicines and some herbs only can address symptomatic relief
Quick-Eze and other medicines such as gaviscon as well some Chinese medicines as above only can relieve the symptoms of heart burn. Chinese medicine when used to advantage is there to treat the root cause of the problem. Acid reflux is no exception, the herbal practitioner looks at what is causing the problem. In Will Maclean’s book Clinical Handbook of Internal Medicine, there are over half a dozen of causes of acid reflux including the liver spleen, blood and phlegm imbalance disorders.
What is an example of a Chinese medicine that is used to give symptomatic relief of acid reflux?
One common one is wu zei gu commonly known as dried cuttle fish bone, often found washed up on the beach.
How does the liver affect acid reflux?
Chinese medical theory says that the liver when it gets over active attacks sideways and then affects the digestive orders of stomach and spleen. The liver could be affected by a number of factors including emotional and physical. For example, stress involving repressed anger and irritability can lead to the liver overloading and dumping its stress onto the stomach causing acid reflux. In this case, to treat the root of the problem an example of a formula could be xiao yao san and medicines like wa leng zi could be added.
What about the stomach itself? Can it be the cause of acid reflux?
When the body is healthy, there is always the correct balance of hot and cold. If the heat component gets out of balance and becomes excess, then a condition called stomach fire can develop. If you were to imagine a hot burning fire in the stomach heating up the inside and then this heat rising, you could easily visualise acid reflux. Irregular diet with too many hot spicy foods can accumulate heat and fire in the stomach. This condition is often accompanied with bad breath and excessive hunger. In this case, a herb like huang lian (coptis) may be selected as one of the ingredients in a formula.
Inhibited blood circulation may cause acid reflux
Chinese medicine holds that blood stasis or inadequate blood movement can cause problems anywhere in the body including the stomach. If there is blood stasis in the stomach there could be fixed stabbing pain in the stomach and even visible spider veins on the abdomen. In this case, herbs like tao ren and hong hua may be selected as part of the herb formula to address the root problem of improper blood circulation.
Chinese herbs are only as good as the diagnosis
Where as modern treatments like Gaviscon and Quick-Eze are used in all cases of acid reflux across the board, they never treat the cause of the problem nor address the individual person’s unique pattern of imbalance. As explained in Will Maclean’s book, there are many causes of acid reflux and hence many options for different approaches to treatment utilizing a vast repertoire of available Chinese herbs that have over a two thousand year history of use and experience.
Acupuncture New Zealand has over 700 members throughout New Zealand and can be contacted to find a member who is also qualified with an additional degree or training in Chinese herbs.
Heiko Lade has a Master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the University of Technology and has had over 30 years of experience.