Managing Heartburn & GI Disorders

Gastrointestinal disorders, including severe cramping, heartburn, acid reflux and diarrhea, are a serious health problem affecting millions each year. Heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxes, allowing stomach acid to reflux. This reflux, in turn, causes a painful burning sensation. For some individuals with heartburn, medications including antacids and PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) are an effective way to manage their gastrointestinal discomfort. For other individuals, however, medication is ineffective at managing symptoms their symptoms. New research suggests that acupuncture is an effective alternative.

Acupuncture is a holistic treatment method based on an Ancient Chinese healing art. According to the Ancient Chinese, the body is composed of energy pathways known as meridians. Blockages in these pathways can lead to illness and disease. Acupuncture is an alternative healing method that uses long, thin needles to stimulate the flow of energy through the body. Research shows that the needles stimulate the central nervous system, which can help manage pain and alleviate other health problems. Acupuncture treatments may provide relief from common GI disorders, including heartburn.

According to a University of Arizona study, acupuncture is significantly more effective than antacids for treating upper GI problems. The research study focused on individuals with chronic heartburn. The study found that individuals who did not respond favorably to antacids did, however, respond to acupuncture treatments. The research study found that 82% of the individuals receiving acupuncture reported decreased chest pain, 83% reported decreased heartburn, and 77% reported decreased acid reflux. Researchers believe that the acupuncture treatments helped to decrease stomach acid while speeding up the digestion process, which consequently led to less acid in the esophagus.

Researchers also believe that acupuncture’s ability to combat stress plays a role in reducing the occurrence of GI disorders. New research links some GI disorders to stress. According to Tony Chon, M.D., the chairman of acupuncture at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, indigestion is linked with stress. “Acupuncture has been used for centuries for relief and treatment,” says Dr. Chon.

During a treatment session, needles are inserted into various pressure points along the body that are linked to digestion. The extremities have more nerve endings, so stimulating the nerve endings in the arms and legs is more effective than only stimulating nerve endings near the stomach. Treatment sessions typically last between 15 and 30 minutes and may be repeated over several weeks for maximum benefit. Talk to your acupuncturist to see if this treatment is helpful for you.

Mayo Clinic, “Gastroesophageal Reflus Disease.” April 2012.


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