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'Tis the Season for Heart Burn

GERD, gastro-esophogeal reflux disorder, is better known to most people in our society as “heart burn.” Many of the foods common in our society this time of year make it worse. Not to mention stress and over eating contribute as well. So, in addition to this being the season to be jolly, it is the season to have heart burn.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine we refer to heart burn as “Stomach Qi Rebellion” since the stomach sends things “rising up” against the usual flow. In western, allopathic terms it is typically a problem with the lower esophageal sphincter not closing appropriately and therefore allowing stomach contents (a lot of acid) up into the esophagus. This acid digesting your esophagus is often the source of the burning pain although GERD may be asymptomatic. Prolonged exposure to stomach acid can cause chronic inflammation of the esophagus, a stricture or tightening of the esophagus making it hard to swallow, and cancer. So, while common, GERD can also be serious. Check with your Western Medicial provider.

Reliance on acid suppression medications for a year or more can lead to vitamin deficiencies, which in turn can cause their own issues like increased likelihood of bone fractures. It has also been linked with an increased incidence of serious digestive tract infections. What’s more, stomach acid is created for a reason: it helps you to digest your food. Getting rid of the acid can contribute to other forms of gut upset. There are several things you can do to reduce GERD without medication.

Lifestyle modifications commonly recommended by doctors to manage GERD typically consist of significantly reducing or eliminating substances that relax the muscles designed to keep the acid headed downwards. Brace yourself, as this list has a lot of your favorites on it: caffeine (coffee, some sodas, some teas), alcohol, chocolate, mints (peppermint, wintergreen), high fat foods, and smoking (arguably vaping). Additionally, some folks benefit from using gravity to help stomach contents flow downwards by remaining upright after consuming smaller portions and potentially raising the head of their bed or sleeping on a wedge pillow.

Even with these lifestyle measures many people are reliant on over-the-counter acid suppression medications. With the recent recall of ranitidine (Zantac) any people are without their go-to for symptom relief. One home remedy based upon TCM principles that may alleviate your GERD symptoms when combined with lifestyle changes is a tea from three easily sourced ingredients: cloves (ding xiang), fennel (xiao hui xiang), and licorice root* (gan cao). I like to grind about a teaspoon each of whole cloves and fennel seeds in a (clean) coffee grinder first. I then put these in a tea infuser. Often the licorice root is sold in a large piece and, if so, you may need to saw it into about an inch-long portion with a knife (careful!). I have not had good luck with licorice root in the coffee grinder. Place all of these in a cup of steaming hot water and let them sit until cooled down enough to drink without burning your tongue. I am not going to say this is the most delicious thing you are ever going to drink as the cloves can get bitter with long steeping, but it’s not bad for medicine and certainly smells wonderful. If it helps the palatability for you, honey is a welcome addition.

*Please note, licorice root can cause problems for people taking prescription diuretics and, over the long term and in high doses, it can negatively impact your potassium levels. If you are taking diuretics, do not use this tea. And, as with all things in TCM: BALANCE. More is not necessarily better.


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