Acupuncture could be the remedy of the future for heartburn sufferers.
But more work needs to be done, says Associate Professor Richard Holloway from the University of Adelaide's Department of Medicine, whose study using this Eastern approach was published in the August issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.
The unique approach was introduced three years ago. It involved a Taiwanese gastroenterologist and Dr Holloway, who is based at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and resulted in two experiments that looked into how the traditional Eastern method might affect transient lower oesophageal sphincter relaxations (TLESRs).
"Since TLESRs are the most important mechanism of acid reflux in normal subjects and patients with heartburn (or reflux), they were targeted for study," he said.
"It was an out-of-left-field approach, without any real expectations that it might work. But we had well-defined technology and measurements for studying heartburn.
"The protocol utilized electrical acupoint stimulation, a high-tech type of acupuncture, with a heartburn model imposed on normal subjects by inflating a balloon in their stomachs."
From a scientific viewpoint, the entire question of how acupuncture works is still a matter of much conjecture.
"What we've shown here is a rather interesting proof of concept, which tackles one of the approaches to acid reflux by controlling the valve that controls acid leak," he said.
"If we can stop the TSLERs events, that would be a major therapeutic gain. But it's a major leap from where we are to a real cure."
Dr Holloway said there are a number of future steps including studying the effect of acupoint on healthy subjects in the context of eating a meal, rather than mechanically blowing up the stomach.
"In addition, knowledge of the underlying mechanisms of the effect of electric acupuncture may help to identify target sites for therapeutic intervention on TLESRs," he said.