Acid reflux, or heartburn, is a common digestive complaint affecting approximately 44 percent of the adult U.S. population at least once a month, and 20 percent feel it at least once a week. A 2007 study in the journal, “Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, as well as a 2006 review in the Journal of Gastroenterology suggest that acupuncture may be a viable treatment option for gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, a chronic form of the condition.
Acid reflux occurs when food or liquid in the stomach leaks up into the esophagus, the tube connecting the stomach to the mouth. The acidic stomach contents cause irritation to the lining of the esophagus, which results in the common complaint of heartburn. Lifestyle and dietary alterations including weight loss, eating smaller portions at meals, not lying down within 2 hours after eating, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are often helpful in managing and preventing the onset of GERD.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture is one of the primary treatment methods employed in traditional Chinese medicine. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, acupuncture has been steadily gaining acceptance as an alternative mode of therapy since the late 1970s, when it first came to the U.S. as a treatment for various types of pain since. In stimulating specific energetic points on the body, primarily with ultrafine needles, practitioners attempt to restore the balance of health Acupuncture must be provided by a properly licensed professional. It is considered generally safe, although minor bruising can occasionally occur at the needle site and typically disappears within one to two weeks.
A 2006 review in the “Journal of Gastroenterology” reported that acupuncture may be effective in the treatment of GERD because it stimulates gastrointestinal motility and inhibits acid secretion in the stomach. Additionally, a small study of 30 patients, published in the 2007 edition of Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, reported that adding acupuncture to proton-pump inhibitor drugs — the conventional therapy — was more effective in managing symptoms than doubling the dosage of the proton-pump inhibitor.
Consult your primary care physician before seeking alternative medical treatment, as structural issues like hiatal hernia may contribute to acid reflux. You may need weeks to months of regular acupuncture treatments to achieve results; the acupuncturist may recommend more frequent treatments initially if symptoms are severe. Treatment costs can vary widely but some insurance plans may provide coverage, especially when acid reflux is accompanied by pain, NCCAM reports.