Acupuncture for Heartburn

by Mark Whalen

As we discussed in part I, heartburn is the most common symptom associated with GERD-gastroesophageal reflux disorder.

Today we are going to look at the use of acupuncture (and chinese herbs) for heartburn.   Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help treat the symptoms –heartburn- and the cause-reflux. Without treating the cause we can’t rectify the problem.I don’t usually dive into technical TCM terminology because it can be confusing, but today I am going to.   I’m crazy like that.

In Chinese medicine we look for patterns of disharmony in the body. A western disease name –reflux, heartburn- isn’t how we determine treatment. Think of if more like a guide post- points us in a direction, and then we determine the right course of treatment.

At its core, reflux is caused by Rebellious Stomach Qi (chee). Qi in this context refers to the contents of the stomach (the acid) and the proper function of the Stomach.

The contents of the stomach are supposed to move in a downward direction. When we digest food, it moves from our stomach into the small intestine and down the line until it comes out.  Reflux is literally the stomach contents going in the wrong direction-aka rebelling.

The purpose of treatment then is to reverse the rebellious qi and correct it’s directional flow. As with most conditions, there are many different patterns that can cause rebellious qi.

Acupuncture and Herbs Diagnosis 

Rather than write out a long boring text, I’ve made a boring infographic for you!   Just kidding- hopefully it explains these patterns in an accessible way. Below is each category that can help explain why you have reflux in the view of Chinese medicine.




Treatment with acupuncture and chinese herbs is aimed at identifying the pattern(s) involved and applying treatment to correct the imbalance.  Once your pattern or patterns are identified, acupuncture points and Chinese herbs can be selected to best treat you. But what do these points and herbs do?


Acupuncture needling produces several effects in the body1.

  • Secretion of endorphins—produces calming feeling experienced during treatment
  • Enhanced circulation through vasodilation of capillaries
  • Immune system stimulation
  • Activation of nerve fibers to block pain signaling
  • Regulation of the nervous system

a) calming effect on Sympathetic Nervous System-responsible for fight or flight (chronic stress)

b) Autonomic Nervous system- regulates homeostasis of autonomic functions –digestion occurs here

What does all this mean to you if you have reflux/heartburn?

  • Acupuncture will help reduce your response to stress
  • improve blood flow- better blood flow =better healing via improved nutrient and oxygen delivery
  • reduce inflammation- a major cause of illness
  • regulate the Autonomic nervous system which is responsible for digestive function
  • Decrease pain levels

Chinese Herbs

There are many Chinese herbs to choose from to treat reflux. Again, the herbs are selected based on the patient’s presentation.

The herbs used for reflux and heartburn have the following physiological functions (2)

  • Contain Amylase enzymes to help digest starches and carbohydrates.
  • Contain Lipase enzymes to help break down red meat, and greasy, oily food
  • Analgesic properties to relieve pain
  • Anti-bacterial properties
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antacid properties- herbs that contain Calcium Carbonate
  • Increase or decrease stomach acid as needed
  • Increase bile production and reduce density of bile – improves digestive function
  • Increase peristalsis – help food move through the intestines faster

As you can see, Acupuncture and Chinese herbs cover all the bases to offer a safe, effective, side effect free way to treat heartburn and reflux.  If you noticed on the infographic, diet plays a major role in all of these pathologies.  Your acupuncturist can work with you to help you choose and avoid the right foods based on your individual presentation.

If you’re suffering, get help.

Call for a free consultation 781-944-3000

Yours in health,





  • Biomedical Acupuncture for Pain Management. Yun-Tao Ma, Mila Ma, Zang Hee Cho. Elsevier press. 2005. St Louis, Missouri
  • Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. John Chen, Tina Chen. Art of Medicine Press. 2001. City of Industry, CA

Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on Acupuncture Reading MA - Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness.


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Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness
20 Pondmeadow Dr #107, Reading, MA 01867
Phone: (781) 944-3000


Serving Reading, North Reading, Wakefield, Burlington and the surrounding Middlesex County, MA areas.

Zip Codes: 01730, 01810, 01867, 01880, 01821, 01803, 01864, 01876,
01887, 01915, 01923, 01940, 01949, 01960