Acupuncture may modulate the gut-brain communication to relieve the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The traditional Chinese medicine technique may also be beneficial for people with other digestive conditions.

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Acupuncture is a technique in which practitioners insert thin needles through the skin to stimulate specific points on the body.

Studies suggest that acupuncture may alleviate the symptoms of several conditions, including lower back pain or osteoarthritis. In addition, the technique may benefit individuals with gastrointestinal disorders.

This article discusses GERD in more detail, including its symptoms and risk factors. It also explores how acupuncture may help relieve GERD symptoms and support the digestive system. Finally, it discusses treatments for GERD and answers some frequently asked questions.

GERD is a chronic digestive disorder involving acid reflux, which is when stomach acid flows from the stomach into the esophagus. It is one of the most common digestive conditions in the United States, affecting about 20% of people.

Some people may have occasional gastroesophageal reflux (GER) without symptoms or with acid indigestion, also known as heartburn. Having GER once in a while is common. However, GERD is a more severe and long lasting condition that may lead to complications.

Symptoms of GERD

The main symptoms of GERD are heartburn and regurgitation. However, it can also cause the following symptoms:

If doctors do not treat GERD, it can lead to Barrett’s esophagus and other complications.

What causes GERD?

The American College of Gastroenterology explains that when someone has GERD, gastric acid and bile flow from their stomach into their esophagus. Usually, a band of muscle called an esophageal sphincter works as a valve to prevent the stomach contents from refluxing into the esophagus.

However, certain health conditions, foods, and lifestyle habits can cause the sphincter to weaken. GERD can then develop.

Research indicates that certain groups of people are more at risk of developing GERD, including those:

Acupuncture may have several effects on the digestive system and gut-brain communication. Research indicates that the underlying mechanisms of acupuncture involve:

  • modulation of the nervous system
  • adjustment of gastrointestinal motility, which is how food moves through the digestive system
  • regulation of visceral hypersensitivity, which is pain in the soft abdominal organs
  • anti-inflammatory mechanisms
  • repair of gut microbiota
  • support of the intestinal barrier

A 2021 review also noted that acupuncture might help control pathways in the nervous system to relieve symptoms of functional dyspepsia, or indigestion. GERD is a possible cause of dyspepsia. However, the researchers note that further research is necessary to confirm this effect.

An older study involving 60 people with GER found that acupuncture treatment effectively inhibited acid and bile reflux compared with taking omeprazole, a standard treatment for digestive symptoms.

Additionally, a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that acupuncture seems to be an effective and safe treatment for GERD. However, the authors note the need for further studies to validate this conclusion.

It is important to note that there is a lack of research surrounding acupuncture for GERD. Furthermore, healthcare professionals do not recommend acupuncture as a standard treatment for this condition.

A person should look for a suitably qualified practitioner if they wish to try acupuncture.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) advises that in most states, a person will require a license, certification, or registration to practice acupuncture. However, education and training standards vary from state to state.

In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices for use by licensed practitioners.

The NCCIH notes that if practitioners do not deliver acupuncture correctly, they can cause serious adverse effects, including:

A person can find a qualified, board certified, licensed acupuncturist using this search tool.

A doctor may treat GERD in various ways, including:

In addition, certain dietary and lifestyle changes may help relieve the symptoms. A person may wish to try the following before using medications:

A doctor may also review a person’s medication for other conditions, as certain drugs can worsen GERD symptoms. These include:

Below, we answer some of the most common questions about acupuncture and GERD.

Does acupuncture work for GERD?

Some research suggests that acupuncture may work for GERD symptoms. However, further research is necessary, and doctors do not recommend acupuncture as a standard treatment for GERD.

A person should discuss using acupuncture for GERD with a doctor before booking a session.

Can acupuncture help digestive issues?

For thousands of years, Chinese medicine practitioners have considered acupuncture an effective method for treating digestive dysfunction.

Some research suggests that acupuncture may help regulate the activity and movement in the digestive tract.

However, a person should speak with a doctor to get a diagnosis and advice about their treatment options.

Is massage good for acid reflux?

Massage may help someone manage the symptoms of GERD.

In a small 2019 study, a type of massage therapy called diaphragmatic myofascial release decreased GERD symptoms and participants’ use of PPIs for up to 4 weeks after the treatment.

However, doctors do not recommend massage as a standard treatment for GERD, and further research is necessary to confirm its benefits.

Some studies suggest that acupuncture may be a safe and effective treatment for GERD and other digestive issues. It may help modulate gut-brain communication, prevent inflammation, and support the microbiome.

However, scientists have not studied acupuncture for GERD in depth, and healthcare professionals do not recommend it as a standard GERD treatment.

Anyone considering acupuncture should discuss this with a doctor and ensure that they use a licensed acupuncture practitioner if they decide to go ahead with the procedure. Alternatively, a person can ask a doctor about standard GERD treatment, which may include dietary and lifestyle changes or medication.