Acupuncture and Stomach Disorders

I am often asked this question when a conversation comes up about stomach disorders and acupuncture. ‘‘CAN ACUPUNCTURE HELP ME TO STOP NEEDING ANTACIDS ALL THE TIME?” or “WHAT ABOUT MY HEARTBURN?”

People are amazed when I explain to them that acupuncture can treat most gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux, bloating, and indigestion very effectively.

According to Chinese Medicine, the Stomach is a major official (organ) in our body.  It is so essential that there is a tradition of acupuncture that focuses primarily on the Stomach (and its ‘sister organ’ the Spleen). If the Stomach can not function to its fullest capacity, than a person is not able to be fully nourished in their Body, Mind or Spirit.

The Stomach is necessary for receiving our food nourishment (or GuQi) and also our mental and spirit level nourishment. We need to process information (i.e. what we read, study, hear, see etc) and that work involves our stomach. We also have to receive and process emotional material, which also involves our stomach.

One of the reasons, Chinese medical practitioners recommend eating a meal in a relaxing environment (without reading/ watching the news etc) is because you are allowing your stomach the optimum environment to process your food that way. You are not overloading your stomach with too much processing. Many of my patients who are in college or graduate programs often have Stomach issues that have mostly resolved with acupuncture, and vanished once they complete their studies.

I’ve treated many people with medical diagnoses of acid reflux or heartburn. These conditions along with problems like belching, hiccupping, nausea and even vomiting fall under the category of Rebellious Stomach Qi. What that means is that the Qi (or energy of the Stomach), is supposed to go in a downward direction (or descend). When the Stomach becomes weakened or stressed or out of balance the Qi may rise which leads to the above symptoms (rebellious Stomach).  There are multiple points and treatment possibilities to treat stomach disorders.  Keep in mind, the Stomach is one of the longest meridians on the body. It has 45 points on it. Combine that with the interplay of other ‘Officials’ on the body (as I will elaborate below), and an acupuncturist can come up with multiple treatment plans for you.

Many underlying imbalances in the body can lead to ‘rebellious stomach qi’. For example, the Liver Official (or meridian) is responsible for the smooth flow of emotions (according to Chinese medicine). When we are chronically stressed or tense/anxious/angry/ depressed etc, our Liver Official may begin to impact onto the Stomach causing the Stomach to ‘rebel’.  How many times have you heard someone cry ‘I can’t stomach it anymore….’ They may loose their appetite. Some people may gain in appetite. Both of these reactions to stress are reflections of a Stomach out of balance.

Another cause could be related to the Kidney Official (or meridian). According to Chinese Medicine, one of the things the Kidney does is help to warm the organs so they can function optimally. Sometimes, with age, the Kidney Official weakens and has less capacity to warm the body. This can d cause the Stomach to weaken in response. I’m sure you have heard of the elderly complaining of more difficulty in digesting different types of foods anspices as they age. Or, that they can no longer eat large meals—when smaller more frequent meals are better tolerated.

Many people complain of a more generalized symptom of ‘sensitive stomach’. They present with bloating and gas which makes their waistbands feel tight after a meal. Often times these people report a very long history of these symptoms. Once under control the symptom may show up occasionally when they are very stressed about something in their life.  Or it becomes their ‘check engine light’ reminding them that they need to practice some of the new coping strategies they’ve learned in their acupuncture journey. The symptom has resolved to the point where it is the exception rather than the rule in their life. In other words acupuncture has helped them to get to the point where they can manage their stomach rather than it managing them.

Did you know that the stomach functions the best when we put warm food into it?  Iced beverages and cold foods, like frozen desserts, actually stress the stomach. Food that is too spicy can also put stress on the stomach over time. Our eating habits over our lifetime can eventually contribute to the weakening of our stomach as we age. An acupuncturist is trained to help you to identify what is actually stressing your stomach so that lifestyle changes can be suggested.

In addition to the history you provide to your acupuncturist, the pulse reading and the tongue evaluation offer valuable information in identifying the condition of your stomach. This will help in formulating a treatment plan that is tailored specifically for you.

Keep your Stomach in mind when you eat your meals.It doesn’t like being overly stuffed.  That burdens the Stomach. So, eat slower…laugh a lot…take smaller portions…don’t drink cold beverages with your meal (sip on room temperature water instead)….and eat throughout the day —-if that’s the only way to try out all the delicious food that awaits you. You can do this.  Support your Stomach and it will support you.

And if all else fails, sip on some soothing peppermint tea….and call me in the morning.


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