Acupuncture for Acid Reflux

Reflux Oesophagitis otherwise known as gastro-oesophageal reflux are the medical terms for acid reflux.  Reflux Oesophagitis refers to the inflammation of the gastro-oesophageal tract which occurs when stomach contents travel back up into the oesophagus.  This partially digested material is usually acidic and can irritate the oesophagus.  The main symptom is heartburn that is often worse at night and may be increased by bending, stooping, lying down or eating, and relieved by antacids.   Other symptoms include belching, tooth pain, acid regurgitation and difficulty in swallowing.  This condition may be caused by hiatus hernia, which occurs in approximately 30% of people over 50, although this is not a direct predictor of the condition.

Factors associated with the condition are pregnancy, obesity, large meals, smoking, hiatus hernia, systemic sclerosis, some drugs, and consumption of fats, chocolate, coffee and alcohol.

Western treatment consists of; a) raising the head during sleep, b) avoiding food and drink which stimulate acid secretion such as coffee, alcohol, fats and chocolate and c) administering antacid after meals and at bedtime.  If these measures do not control the problem, drugs such as Cimetidine may be prescribed.  Surgery may be required if there is oesophageal haemorrhage, and oesophageal strictures are treated by repeated stretching.


Reflux and TCM

In TCM, there are three main causes of acid reflux:  emotional stress, overwork and irregular diet.  It is regarded as a complex disease characterised by Qi Stagnation, Tan (which roughly translates as ‘Phlegm’ from the Chinese, which is a concept that roughly approximates congealed fluids) and an underlying deficiency, which affects many different organs including the Stomach, Spleen, Liver, Lungs and Heart.  Emotions such as worry, anger, or grief can all affect the effective operation of the organs and may cause the Qi to either; disrupt the proper transformation of food into energy or, if Qi is depleted by grief or worry it will fail to circulate properly.

Overwork is often accompanied by an irregular diet (eating late at night, skipping meals, eating in a hurry) and this often leads to digestive problems.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Reflux?

Acupuncture has been shown to alter acid secretions, gastro intestinal motility and abdominal pain 1(Takahashi, 2006).  In a systematic review of acupuncture treatment, 2 Ouyang and Chen (2004) found evidence of significant improvement in patients treated with acupuncture for gastro-intestinal diseases.

Electro-acupuncture has been shown to be useful in the treatment of gastric stricture (i.e. difficulty in swallowing) according to 3 Zou et al (2005).


1Takahashi, T (2006)  Acupuncture for functional gastrointestinal disorders, Journal of Gastroenterolgy, Vol 41, No  5, pp 408 –417

2Ouyang, H, Chen, J D Z (2004) Review article:  therapeutic role of acupuncture in gastrointestinal disorders  Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Vol 2, Iss 8 pp 831–841

3Zou, D., Chen, W H.,  Iwakiri, H., Rigda, R., Tippett, M.,, Holloway, R H., ( 2005) Inhibition of transient lower  esophageal sphincter relaxations by electrical acupoint stimulation American Journal of Physiology— Gastrointestinal Liver Physiology Vol 289 pp 197-201


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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