Acid reflux according to Chinese Medicine

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Acid reflux can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like acid reflux here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here acid reflux is often associated with vomiting, abdominal pain and poor appetite in the pattern “Qi Stagnation”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause acid reflux.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of acid reflux we’ve identified four herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat acid reflux.

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause acid reflux

In Chinese Medicine acid reflux is a symptom for 3 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu) is the king ingredient for Xiao Yao San, a formula used for Qi Stagnation

Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Tight (Jin), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Red sides

Qi Stagnation refers to Qi becoming stuck or stagnant, a bit like a traffic jam on the freeway. This restricted flow of Qi can be body-wide or happen in any specific Organ.

In addition to acid reflux, other symptoms associated with Qi Stagnation include vomiting, abdominal pain and poor appetite.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Late Menstruation.

Qi Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Qi Stagnation here

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm

Phlegm

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

The concept of Phlegm is much wider and important in Chinese Medicine than in the West. Broadly speaking, Phlegm is a substance produced when the body fails to handle Body Fluids properly.

In addition to acid reflux, other symptoms associated with Phlegm include vomiting, poor appetite and depression.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Phlegm is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Late Menstruation or Scanty Menstruation.

Phlegm is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm here

The Stomach is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Stomach in Chinese Medicine

Liver Qi Stagnation invading the Stomach

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thick coating

Tongue color: Red

In addition to acid reflux, other symptoms associated with Liver Qi Stagnation invading the Stomach include poor appetite, dry mouth and depression.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Liver Qi Stagnation invading the Stomach is associated with health issues such as Morning Sickness.

Liver Qi Stagnation invading the Stomach is often treated with Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that promote qi movement", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates the flow of Qi, treats esophageal spasm".

Read more about Liver Qi Stagnation invading the Stomach here

Four herbal formulas that might help with acid reflux

Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Source date: 1602

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Disperses Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. Alleviates pain. Harmonizes Blood.

Why might Chai Hu Shu Gan San help with acid reflux?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi Stagnation' of which acid reflux is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi Stagnation include vomiting, abdominal pain and poor appetite.

Read more about Chai Hu Shu Gan San here

Yue Ju Wan

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes the movement of Qi. Releases all types of Stagnation (Qi, Blood, Phlegm, Fire, Food and Dampness).

Why might Yue Ju Wan help with acid reflux?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Phlegm' of which acid reflux is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Phlegm can contribute to many health issues, including Morning Sickness.

Read more about Yue Ju Wan here

Zuo Jin Wan

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Key actions: Clears Liver Heat. Directs Rebellious Qi downward. Stops vomiting.

Why might Zuo Jin Wan help with acid reflux?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Qi Stagnation invading the Stomach' of which acid reflux is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Liver Qi Stagnation invading the Stomach can contribute to many health issues, including Morning Sickness.

Read more about Zuo Jin Wan here

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Why might Xiao Yao San help with acid reflux?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi Stagnation' of which acid reflux is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi Stagnation include vomiting, abdominal pain and poor appetite.

Read more about Xiao Yao San here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat acid reflux

Why might Coco-Grass Rhizome (Xiang Fu) help with acid reflux?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat acid reflux and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat acid reflux as a symptom (such as Chai Hu Shu Gan San for instance).

Coco-Grass Rhizomes is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter, Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Liver and the Sanjiao.

Its main actions are: Unblocks Stagnant Liver Qi and relieves pain. Regulates the Liver and Spleen. Assists the regulation of menses and relieves pain.

Read more about Coco-Grass Rhizomes here

Why might Evodia Fruit (Wu Zhu Yu) help with acid reflux?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat acid reflux and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat acid reflux as a symptom (such as Zuo Jin Wan for instance).

Evodia Fruits is a Hot herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Warms the Spleen, expels Cold, relieves pain and helps the Liver. Directs Rebellious Qi downward

Read more about Evodia Fruits here

Why might Goldthread Rhizome (Huang Lian) help with acid reflux?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat acid reflux and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat acid reflux as a symptom (such as Zuo Jin Wan for instance).

Goldthread Rhizomes is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder, the Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart, the Large intestine and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Expels Damp-Heat especially in the Lower Burner. Eliminates Fire toxicity especially when there is associated Dampness. Acts as a sedative by eliminating Heart Fire. Eliminates Stomach Fire. Expel parasites

Read more about Goldthread Rhizomes here

Why might Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with acid reflux?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat acid reflux as a symptom, like Yue Ju Wan or Xiao Yao San for instance.

Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Fortifies the Spleen Yang and dispels Damp through urination. Tonifies Qi and stops sweating. Calms restless fetus when due to Deficiency of Spleen Qi.

Read more about Atractylodes Rhizomes here

Why might Bupleurum Root (Chai Hu) help with acid reflux?

Because Bupleurum Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat acid reflux as a symptom, like Xiao Yao San or Chai Hu Shu Gan San for instance.

Bupleurum Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Harmonizes exterior and interior. Smoothes the Liver and upraises the Yang.

Read more about Bupleurum Roots here

Conditions associated with acid reflux

Morning sickness