Traditional Chinese Medicine Tricks to Soothe Acid Reflux

Chinese herbs
Chinese herbs | Shutterstock
Sally Gao

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), happens when acid in your stomach leaks upwards into your esophagus. It causes a painful, tightening or burning sensation in the chest and can potentially damage your esophagus. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a 2,000 year old healing technique that has some suggestions for treating this unpleasant condition.

What causes acid reflux?

Taoist yin-yang theory underpins the way TCM understands disease. Our bodies stay healthy as long as our internal balance of yin (cool) and yang (warm) forces is more or less equal. Acid reflux is caused by imbalances in stomach or liver, or both.

One common cause of acid reflux is stomach fire. This happens when excessive yang energy flows into the stomach, and is accompanied by a fast pulse, dry stools, and feelings of hunger and thirst. Stress, frustration and “fiery” foods, such as coffee and chilli peppers, can all build up stomach fire. Over time, the condition can lead to a yin deficiency.

Acid reflux can also be a sign of poor digestion, which leads to an accumulation of fluids in the stomach known as stomach dampness. Dampness slows down the movement of blood and qi (vital energy) in the body. When present in the stomach, it can make the stomach feel full and cause qi to move in the wrong direction — up instead of down, leading to acid reflux. Fatigue, bloating and weight gain are all signs of stomach dampness.

Lastly, liver fire is also a suspect for acid reflux. It’s similar to stomach fire, and usually comes as a result of anger or stress. According to TCM, the liver is in charge of regulating emotions, so an unbalanced emotional state can disrupt the flow of qi in your body.

Dietary suggestions for acid reflux

Sour foods are said to help the liver. Incorporating vinegar, kiwis, tomatoes, lemons and limes into your diet can cool the liver and soothe your nerves.

Avoid hot and spicy foods as well as cigarettes. Instead, a diet of cooling, yin foods can go a long way toward soothing acid reflux. Yin foods tend to be green and hydrating. Celery, cucumber, eggplant, green or mint tea, lotus root, aloe vera, bananas and melons are all excellent candidates.

Sliced cucumber

If you suspect that you need to clear dampness from your body, bitter and pungent flavors are the way to go. Try to include onions, radishes, arugula and bitter melon in your meals. It’s also important to avoid dairy and cold drinks, as they are common contributors to internal dampness.

Key ingredients for acid reflux sufferers:

Peppermint: has cooling properties that can help reduce heat in the stomach and get your qi flowing properly.

Fresh ginger and lemon: can help qi descend, preventing the contents of your stomach from moving upwards. Ginger is a yang (warming) food that can help expel cold and dampness, so it’s not recommended if you have a yin deficiency. Lemon is a neutral food (it has roughly equal amounts of yin and yang) that can help your body replenish moisture.

Ginger and lemons

Ark shell or clam shell: are known to harmonize the stomach by clearing phlegm and dampness, and regulating stomach acidity.

Oyster shell: is also commonly prescribed, as it helps free liver qi and calms the shen (spirit). Finely powdered shells can be obtained in a Chinese pharmacy. To take it, simply dissolve the powder in water and drink it.

Bamboo shavings: can help to clear heat from the stomach, guide stomach qi downwards and relieve stomach pain. You can cook the shavings in boiling water and drink it, or add them to a stir-fry or similar dish.

Other tips and tricks

Stress relief:If your acid reflux is caused or exacerbated by excess heat in your body as a result of stress, anger or anxiety, the most important thing would be to address the source of your stress. If that’s not an option, you can also try meditation, yoga, getting more rest, and spending more time on relaxing activities.

Relaxing yoga

Avoid damp environments:This is important for those who think they may be suffering from stomach dampness. Avoid sleeping on the ground and consider getting a dehumidifier for your home. When you get out of the pool or shower, make sure to dry off immediately before the dampness has a chance to get absorbed into your body.

Sleep with your upper body slightly elevated: This helps to prevent your stomach’s contents from rising and to direct qi downward. The easiest way to achieve this is to strategically pad your bed with pillows.

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