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Acupuncture versus acid reflux: 40% cut in sphincter relaxations brings hope for relief

BETHESDA, Md. (August 30, 2005) Even the U.S. National Institutes of Health doesn't know what causes gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. And NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) says there's an unclear relationship between GERD, heartburn and hiatal hernia (HH). Patients may have only one out of three, any two out of three, or all three.

Nevertheless, clinicians know that all three often occur together and that a variety of lifestyle changes, medication, surgery and recently approved devices and an implant are imperfect solutions.

An encounter between a Taiwanese gastroenterologist wanting to study acupuncture and an opening at the Royal Adelaide Hospital resulted in two experiments looking into how the traditional Eastern approach might affect transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations (TLESRs). Since TLESRs are "the most important mechanism of acid reflux in normal subjects and patients with GERD," they were targeted for study.

The paper describing the study, "Inhibition of transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations by electrical acupoint stimulation," appears in the August issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, published by the American Physiological Society. Research was performed by Duowu Zou, Wei Hao Chen, Katsuhiko Iwakiri, Rachael Rigda, Marcus Tippett and Richard H. Holloway of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Australia.

The Neiguan connection

"It was an out-of-left-field approach, without any real expectations that it might work," according to Richard H. Holloway, in whose Royal Adelaide Hospital laboratory the work was done, "but we had well-defined technology and measurements for studying GERD." The protocol utilized electrical acupoint stimulation, a high-tech type of acupuncture, with a GERD model imposed on normal subjects by inflating a balloon in their stomachs.

In two separate studies, barely
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