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Acid Reflux, Heartburn and GERD

Acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD are one of the most common ailments we see today. In fact, more than 15 million people take some form of medication to combat symptoms.

Daily experiences with these conditions can vary greatly as it can present with a wide array of symptoms, often very individual. Commonly you may experience burning in the throat and behind the sternum, trouble sleeping because it wakes you up, feeling like something is caught in your throat, burping, bloating, changes in appetite, changes in bowel movements, and more.

TCM has many tools to address digestive symptoms. It’s very individualized and is not a one size fits all treatment.

The first step is to map your symptoms. For example is it always after a certain meal, certain time of day, or due to stress? Next, what are the top discomforts you’re experiencing? Such as, burning, burping, bloating, diarrhea, etc.

Common diagnosis for TCM includes Liver patterns, Stomach, and Spleen patterns. This will depend on you as an individual and will not be the same for everyone. Herbs, Teas, and supplements can also be very important and helpful, but will be adjusted for your specific needs.

My top tips for reflux, heartburn, and GERD are the following—

  1. Know your triggers

This can take some time and detective work, but is crucial to avoid the discomfort and possible long term damage. Common triggers include coffee, tomato, chocolate, citrus, spicy foods, greasy foods, and certain medications. Sometimes you can eat your triggers in small amounts or earlier in the day and be ok, other times it will be a hard pass.

  1. Eat earlier in the day

For many, eating late at night can be the most damaging. You might be waking up at 3am and never be able to go back to sleep. You might wake in the morning bloated with diarrhea or constipation. It can also cause irritation to the throat and sinuses. The TCM meridian clock considers 7 to 9am as the Stomach hours, it’s the perfect time to eat your biggest meal of the day.

  1. Eat Smaller meals

An empty stomach can set up a cycle of acid and hunger that can be like getting stuck on a hamster wheel. Eating smaller amounts more frequently will keep a ‘protective layer’ in the stomach, so the acid is not eating away at the mucosal lining. It’s important to watch the portion sizes. Many people will feel better on an empty stomach at the beginning of their symptoms, but this can turn quickly.

  1. Stay hydrated

With the PH balance off in the stomach, it can be very hard to stay hydrated. It can seem like you’re always thirsty no matter what you do. I always suggest, and use myself, electrolytes to keep fluids down. Salt can also help you keep fluids, so don’t be afraid to add a little more to your diet. Things like coconut water and adrenal cocktails can be helpful here. It doesn’t have to be Gatorade.


Some of my favorite things you can take at home when you’re having a flare up, include chamomile tea, Swedish bitters, electrolytes, and use a heating pad on the abdomen.

If you are experiencing pain in the right shoulder, grey colored stools, coffee ground stools, rapid heartbeat, or shortness of breath, you should seek immediate medical care. These can be symptoms of serious conditions that may require more aggressive intervention.

Regular acupuncture treatment can help control your symptoms, even out your digestion, help you sleep, and address stress and anxiety that may be contributing to your condition.

Digestion is the engine for the body, so many important functions start in the gut. Treat your belly right!

Jennifer L Fockler, LAc


Chicago Acupuncturist