by Kai-Chang Chan
During the holiday season, we all are tempted by more than our normal share of sweets, treats and drink options. The types of foods and amounts of food consumed can complicate a condition known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). If you’ve ever experienced a sour or bitter taste in your mouth right after lying down in bed, you’re experiencing GERD, and you know it’s not pleasant.
You might also feel a burning sensation in the throat or, in severe cases, choking and pain that interrupts your sleep.
What Causes GERD?
Gastric acid plays an important role in breaking down food and killing bacteria. In healthy individuals, stomach acid stays in the stomach. However, if you have a weak sphincter muscle at the lower end of your esophagus, it may cause backward flow of stomach acid, resulting in GERD. In our modern lifestyle, it’s common to consume deep-fried fast food, alcohol and caffeine. Unfortunately, these foods also aggravate GERD symptoms. Desserts and acidic foods like citrus, tomato and cranberry juice may also cause stomach acid secretion when they are consumed on an empty stomach.
GERD in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) teaches that acid reflux can be related to three factors: stress, binge eating or weak gastrointestinal function.
Stress: Research shows that emotional stress can increase stomach acid production and cause abnormal functioning of the sphincter muscle. TCM teaches that the liver is affected by stress and might also affect stomach function. Patients with abnormal liver function tend to have a bitter taste in their mouths, dry cough, excessive gastric acid secretions and increased irritability.
Binge Eating: Many people skip meals due to busy work schedules. To make up for the missed meal, they eat a huge dinner at the end of the day. In TCM’s point of view, the binge eating lifestyle could damage the stomach’s ascending and descending function. Infrequent meals also harm the spleen and increase gastric pressure.
Weak GI Function: A weak digestive system could be constitutional or it may result from a long-term pattern of poor eating. Besides heartburn and coughing, patients with weak GI function may also have abdominal bloating, gas or indigestion.
Instead of depending on over-thecounter antacids, here are five natural remedies to help you get to the root cause of acid reflux:
1. Have dinner two hours before going to bed. Your body takes hours to digest food and may take longer for protein and fats. Give your stomach some time to empty before you lie down. Even better, take a walk after each meal.
2. Cut down coffee, alcohol, deep-fried foods, doughnuts and dessert. Caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods and sweets irritate the stomach lining and aggravate acid reflux symptoms.
3. Avoid eating acidic foods on an empty stomach. Soda, tomato, cranberry and citrus fruits like lemon, grapefruit, lime, orange and tangerine are acidic and more likely to cause heartburn. If you want to drink soda or lemonade, take a few bites of a sandwich first. Eating food like grilled chicken before tomato soup may ease the stomach acid backup.
4. Take baking soda and ginger. When heartburn flares up, drink half a cup of water mixed with one tablespoon of baking soda to neutralize gastric acid. If you have high blood pressure or are on a salt-restricted diet, ask your doctor before trying it out. Ginger root is also used in TCM to balance the digestive system.
5. Don’t skip meals. Frequent small meals are easier to digest than huge portions. Between meals, have a handful of roasted lightly salted nuts or crackers to keep symptoms at bay.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for acid reflux. The right treatment depends on the root symptom. TCM protocols for stress-related GERD are different from those for GERD that is caused by a weak stomach. Your TCM practitioner might even prescribe additional treatments such as acupuncture, which balances the digestive system and relaxes body and mind, or Chinese herbs such as ginger, cuttlefish bone, Thunberg Fritillary Bulb, licorice or ginseng.
Kai-Chang Chan, L. Ac., M.A.O.M, was born in Taiwan and teaches in the San Antonio classrooms of Texas Health and Science University and is a practitioner at the new Acupuncture Health Clinic, 9240 Guilbeau Rd., 210-901-1234, www. acupuncturehealthsa.com. For more information about THSU classes in San Antonio and Austin, visit www. thsu.edu.