Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) does not close properly and stomach contents leak back, or reflux, into the esophagus. The LES is a ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus that acts like a valve between the esophagus and stomach.When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn. The fluid may even be tasted in the back of the mouth, and this is called acid indigestion. Occasional heartburn is common but does not necessarily mean one has GERD. Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered GERD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at GERD as a symptom of a more systemic imbalance. In TCM the symptoms of heartburn and reflux are almost always understood as a conflict between the liver and the stomach. In Chinese medicine, the liver is seen as being in charge of keeping everything in the body (blood, energy, emotions, digestion) flowing smoothly in the correct directions. When the liver is taxed beyond its comfort zone, often as a result of protracted stress, it is unable to keep everything flowing smoothly and it rebels. Often the direction of this rebellion is sideways into the stomach. The stomach’s normal direction of energy flow is downwards. When the rebellious energy of the liver (or the undifferentiated energy of a first trimester fetus) impacts the stomach, it causes the energy in the stomach to rebel upwards, potentially leading to chronic symptoms and signs like a thick greasy tongue coat, burping, heartburn, and reflux. Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine offer effective treatments for these objectives.