Heartburn is the burning sensation that results when acidic juices travel from the stomach up the esophagus. The technical term is acid reflux. It's usually caused by overindulging in food or alcohol, or by stress, but physical conditions such as hiatal hernia can also produce the symptom.

Herbal Medicine for Heartburn

Herbs can improve digestion and soothe the stomach. One commonly used herb is ginger. Fresh gingerroot is used to absorb the acid in stomach juices and can calm upset stomachs.

Although it sounds paradoxical, one of the most common causes of heartburn is not enough stomach acid. With less acid to aid in the breakdown process, food stays undigested in the stomach longer, thus increasing the chances of reflux. The group of herbs known as bitters signals the stomach to crank out more digestive juices. The herbs' bitter taste on the tongue is probably responsible for sending these messages to the brain and stomach. Bitters include gentian root, dandelion root, wormwood, and goldenseal root.

Carminatives, another group of herbs, can relieve stomach discomforts as well as gas. They include fennel seeds, lemon balm leaves, and peppermint leaves and stems.

The leaves and stems of meadowsweet can also pamper an irritated digestive tract. Meadowsweet protects and soothes mucous membranes and reduces excess acidity. The tincture form can be more palatable than teas, and for those who find alcohol irritating, the tincture can be put in hot water to evaporate the alcohol.

An herbalist may prescribe drinking a tea of gentian root about half an hour before a meal to prevent heartburn. Prepare the tea by simmering about a teaspoon of the chopped, dried root in a cup of water for 20 minutes. If the taste of the gentian root tea is too bitter, capsules are also effective.

Biofeedback Training for Heartburn

Biofeedback training has shown promise in several digestive disorders, including heartburn. It can teach people with heartburn to control the action of their digestive systems as well as to reduce stress, thereby preventing the pain. Here's how it might work:

  • The patient's abdomen, head, or other body part is hooked up to a biofeedback machine with sensors that measure unconscious bodily functions and give back readings (either visual signs or audible tones). This information lets the patient know which functions need to be controlled or relaxed.
  • The biofeedback technician teaches techniques such as creative visualization, giving the patient ways to alter the bodily functions.
  • After weeks of practice, the machines are no longer needed, and the patient can reinforce the lessons with techniques at home.

A biofeedback technician can perform biofeedback training after your health care practitioner has ruled out other, more serious digestive problems. A therapeutic course can last as long as four months.

Traditional Chinese Medicine for Heartburn

According to traditional Chinese medicine, heartburn reveals an imbalance in the body's energy, or qi, and a disruption of the harmony between the body's opposing forces (yin and yang). For example, the painful, burning sensation may signal that the energy is blocked and that the stomach system has too much yang. The following therapies can offer relief:

  • Acupuncture and acupressure -- using needles or pressure points to clear the energy channels or strengthen or calm the energy. One acupressure treatment for heartburn might be, for example, to find a specific point near the ankle joint, then press the thumb on that spot.
  • Traditional Chinese herbs -- in the form of a preparation of a dozen or so herbs tailored to the patient's condition.
  • Qigong -- exercises can address heartburn by reducing stress and correcting the imbalances in an individual's qi that can contribute to heartburn.

Of course, traditional Chinese physicians stress prevention. They would devise an individualized program of diet, exercise, lifestyle adjustments, and relaxation techniques so each person with heartburn could do away with the condition for good.

Other Heartburn Therapies

  • Bodywork for Heartburn -- Various therapies can strengthen abdominal muscles, teach proper breathing, and ease tension.
  • Detoxification, Fasting, and Colon Therapy for Heartburn -- Treatment may involve dietary alterations, fasts, and colonic irrigation.
  • Meditation for Heartburn -- Regular meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, which may be contributing to heartburn.
  • Nutritional Therapy for Heartburn -- Recommendations include eating smaller meals, avoiding rich or spicy foods, and taking digestive enzymes.

For more information on heartburn and alternative medicine, see: