- What Is Known About Acute Indigestion
- Healthy Steps: Acute Indigestion—First Steps
- Healthy Steps: Acute Indigestion—Full Program
- Preventing Acute Indigestion
- From Dr. Deborah's Desk
For some people it’s pain, and for others digestion just seems to be working upstream instead of downstream. It’s not a condition anyone wants to talk about, but nearly everyone—male and female, young and old—suffers an occasional bout of indigestion.
Chances are you just ate too much or too fast; dinner was too spicy or too greasy; or you indulged in too much caffeine, alcohol, or chocolate. There may be a particular food or a certain medication your stomach doesn’t tolerate well. Sometimes, an upset stomach may have nothing to do with food but is instead caused by emotional trauma or nervousness.
Many people take an ill-advised shortcut when they immediately reach for gastrointestinal (GI) medications to deal with indigestion. Often doing more harm than good, these medicines can cause numerous side effects and mask imbalances that may lead to more serious conditions. For digestive health and overall well-being, acute indigestion offers the perfect chance to address the root causes of your indigestion and not just repeatedly muffle the symptoms.
Even if you feel your indigestion occurs too frequently or lacks obvious triggers, don’t let pharmaceutical advertisements scare you into concluding that you are suffering from “irritable bowel syndrome” (IBS). For more than a decade, irritable bowel syndrome has been portrayed as a disease requiring drug treatment. What may be a benign functional disorder has been reframed as a serious disease with a label and a corresponding drug. Irritable bowel is a real condition requiring treatment but not necessarily pharmaceutical drugs. First ask yourself if your bellyache is triggered by specific foods, eating habits, or another easily remedied cause.
As Lord Chesterfield observed, “I am convinced that a light supper, a good night’s sleep, and a fine morning have sometimes made a hero of the same man, who, by an indigestion, a restless night, and rainy morning, would have proved a coward.” By making healthier choices, you too can face the day like a hero, without fear of gastrointestinal distress.
Indigestion, also called functional dyspepsia, is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions. Symptoms generally follow eating and include an acidic taste in the mouth, belching, gas, growling stomach, abdominal bloating, an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, and nausea. Many people notice their symptoms worsen during times of stress.
You may also experience heartburn, a burning sensation deep in the chest, along with indigestion. A separate condition from simple indigestion, heartburn is caused by stomach acids rising into the esophagus. Although there are some differences, many of the recommendations we offer here for indigestion can also help alleviate heartburn. For most people, despite what pharmaceutical ads would have you believe, indigestion is not a disease that requires medication.
One of the simplest ways of relieving indigestion is to identify troublesome foods and eliminate them from your diet-or find ways of preparing them to enhance their digestibility. For example, many people experience gas and intestinal discomfort from eating vegetables such as onions, cabbage, and cauliflower. According to researchers, the method of preparation influences tolerance to these foods; cooking vegetables just until tender appears to prevent symptoms in most cases.
Decreasing consumption of refined carbohydrates often helps control reactive hypoglycemia, which may trigger certain GI symptoms. Many people also have a limited capacity to absorb fructose, which dominates the typical Western diet in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose (50 percent fructose). Additionally, processing methods alter the chemical structure of food constituents, causing them to become allergenic or difficult to digest.
Research shows that food allergies and intolerances frequently cause indigestion. The usual suspects include wheat and other gluten grains, milk, eggs, chocolate, and legumes. By eliminating suspected foods from your diet and then adding each item back one at a time, you may be able to identify the culprits. In addition to foods, some commonly used medications can cause significant dyspepsia, including aspirin and other painkillers; estrogen and oral contraceptives; steroid medications; certain antibiotics; and thyroid medicines.
When overeating causes common indigestion, simple remedies and lifestyle adjustments will relieve the discomfort. Acute and chronic indigestion, however, may signal an underlying problem such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers, gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying), or gallbladder disease. Acute indigestion is also associated with other conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis). If you do not experience relief by following the healing program outlined below, consult your health care practitioner.
For the greatest indigestion improvement with the fewest steps, do the following:
Gaia Herbs Sweetish Bitters: Use 1 dropper three times daily in a small amount of water.
Fennel and Cardamom: Add 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds and 6 cardamom pods to 1 cup of water. Simmer for 15 minutes in a covered pot, strain, and drink as a tea with milk added. Repeat dosage in one hour or as needed.
Apple-cider vinegar: Combine 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar and 1 teaspoon raw Manuka honey blended in 5 ounces of water. This often brings fast relief.
Avoid antacids, alcohol, gluten, and pasteurized dairy.
A comprehensive program for good digestion involves many areas in which action steps can be taken, gradually or all at once. Start by following the basic nutrition and healthy lifestyle guidelines, with the following modifications:
Savor Helpful Foods
Chicken soup: Eat homemade chicken rice soup with added salt and coconut milk. For convenience, prepare a batch of soup and freeze it in ice cube trays; 3 - 4 cubes can be warmed in a small pot and eaten daily.
Ginger tea: Simmer 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger in 1 cup of water for 10 minutes in a covered pot; strain and add a little cream. As an alternative, use ginger tea bags.
Salads: Begin meals with a raw salad to stimulate the production of digestive enzymes. Bitter greens such as arugula, endive, and radicchio are especially beneficial for digestion. In general, increase the proportion of raw foods in your diet.
Raw Manuka honey: This special honey is rich in natural enzymes that aid in digestion. Enjoy 1 teaspoon mixed with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar as an occasional tummy soother.
Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, lacto-fermented pickles, kombucha, and kefir made from raw milk are rich in friendly microorganisms that encourage healthy digestion. Fermented drinks like Kombucha are considered to be superior to pure water especially in their ability to relieve thirst during or after physical exertion. Eat or drink a small portion of fermented foods at the beginning of each meal.
Water: To encourage the formation of gastric juices, drink 8 ounces of pure filtered water 30 minutes before meals. (See store for water filters.) Some people find carbonated, unsweetened water also aids in mealtime digestion. Limit yourself to small sips and drink no more than 1 cup throughout the meal.
Avoid Problematic Foods
There is a long list of foods famous for causing indigestion. Pay attention to your experience and consider eliminating the following as needed:
- Excessive amounts of fruits, especially combined with other foods
- Dried beans (pinto, black, navy, etc.)
- Cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
- Dairy products; pasteurized dairy products are more difficult to digest than raw dairy
- Soy, especially tofu, soymilk, and processed meat substitutes (tempeh, miso, and tamari may be tolerated)
- Grains, especially wheat; sprouted grains may be tolerated better
- Pork chops (Cured pork such as ham and bacon may be easily digested but pork chops are not and one may feel weak and ill after eating them.)
- Very spicy foods
- Beverages: Avoid carbonated drinks; sodas containing high-fructose corn syrup are the worst offenders. Excessive liquids with meals, iced drinks, coffee, black tea, citrus, and sweetened fruit juices or other sweetened beverages can all aggravate indigestion. Wine can be either a digestive aid or irritant, depending on the individual.
- Food preparation: Frying-either deep frying or frying in vegetable oil-is a common cause of indigestion. The best food preparation methods include steaming, baking, poaching, and braising. Whether or not grilling food triggers indigestion depends on the individual.
Supplements Can Help
- Original Synbiotic (Bio-Immersion). Start with 1/4 teaspoon daily and increase as tolerated to 1 full teaspoon daily.
- Gaia Herbs Sweetish Bitters Elixir. Herbal bitters stimulate the flow of digestive juices and encourage healthy digestion. Use 1 dropper three times daily in a small amount of water.
- Di-Pan 9 (Thorne). Take 1-2 capsules after a heavy meal or if discomfort follows a heavy meal.
- Melatonin 5mg (Thorne). Taking 5 mg of melatonin at bedtime can relieve indigestion, and help prevent its recurrence.
- Hops Tincture (Herb Pharm). 10-15 drops in water helps your digestive tract keep moving in the proper direction.
Daily Life Activities
- Don't smoke. At the very least, don't smoke right before or after eating because smoking can irritate the stomach lining.
- Slow down and chew thoroughly. Eat more slowly, relax, and enjoy your meals with companions, if possible. Don't bring up controversy at the dinner table. Put your fork down between bites.
- Eat smaller meals.
- Breathe: Take a few deep breaths before you begin eating.
- Take a walk after dinner.
- Keep a food diary: The best way to prevent indigestion is to avoid the foods and situations that seem to hit you in the gut. Keep a food diary to identify and track the foods and habits that cause your indigestion, noting which changes in your lifestyle have helped you eliminate those symptoms.
Homeopathic Treatment for Indigestion
Match your symptoms to the best description below and take that remedy at the first sign of indigestion. Repeat after 15 and 30 minutes if no better. Don’t take any more of the remedy once you’re significantly better.
- Indigestion with burning pains, anywhere along the digestive tract.
- Troubles come on from food poisoning or eating spoiled food.
- May be so bad that there is vomiting and/or diarrhea
- You feel chilly, perhaps anxious
- You mainly feel bloated, distended, with a stretched feeling in your abdomen
- Only a little relief comes from letting the air out
- You feel weak and just want to lie down
- Fresh air from the window or a fan is comforting
- After a rich or indulgent meal, there is nausea and bloating
- This time passing the air doesn’t relieve symptoms much
- You might be sweating and feel highly sensitive: to touch, moods, or conditions
- Horrible abdominal cramping that squeeze and relaxes, over and over
- You feel the need to hold your belly, bend over, or lie on your stomach.
- You know if you could just move your bowels you would feel better
- You keep your complaints to yourself as long as possible
- Indigestion with spasms, cramps, bloating and nausea..
- Indigestion comes on after alcohol, spicy foods, or over-eating.
- Nothing seems to be moving out, just cramping and hurting.
- You might feel chilly and irritable
- Milk or any dairy brings on the symptoms
- Sour belching, sour taste, sore stomach
- Indigestion which is particularly worse after rich foods or for a women during her menstrual cycle.
- You feel hot and sensitive to closed rooms, better from the open air.
- Though warm, you’re not able to drink at all.
- Indigestion that comes after great indulgence of any sort
- Like Arsenicum, burning symptoms, from top to bottom, from heartburn to diarrhea. The diarrhea can occur suddenly, sometimes first thing in the morning.
- You feel hot, and you want something cold to drink
The first step in preventing indigestion is to clean up your diet by following the dietary recommendations above. Cutting out refined carbohydrates, fatty foods, fried or otherwise heavily cooked foods, processed foods, and food additives will alleviate most GI distress. Instead choose nutrient-dense foods and enjoy them in moderation.
To overcome indigestion, cultivate mindfulness while eating and pay attention to the timing of your meals. Try to become aware of habits that may be contributing to your bellyaches.
If you recognize that stress is a trigger, reevaluate your lifestyle. Learn new methods for managing stress such as relaxation, meditation, or biofeedback techniques.
Next, remind yourself to eat slowly. The process of digestion begins in your mouth with the act of chewing. Not only does chewing break food down into smaller pieces that are easy to swallow, but it also triggers the flow of saliva, which contains enzymes (amylase and lipase) that initiate the process of digestion. Eating too quickly or swallowing half-chewed food is hard on your gastrointestinal tract and is a common cause of digestive distress.
Finally, don't rush from the table straight into the next ambitious activity. Take a few minutes to relax. In particular, don't exercise with a full stomach. Instead exercise before a meal or at least one hour after eating. At the other extreme, don't lie down right after eating. Ideally, wait at least three hours after your last meal of the day before going to bed. This allows your body time to digest what you've eaten. Not only will your digestion improve, but you'll sleep more comfortably, too.
Nothing ruins a great meal like indigestion, yet it is often those great, over-indulgent meals that cause indigestion. Distractedly eating while sipping from a bottomless glass of ice water is a perfect storm for abdominal pain, burping, and heartburn-in short, misery.
Yet even in the best of circumstances, everyone has had the experience of stomach complaints after eating. Perhaps digestive enzymes such as Di-Pan 9, should be the very last course at a fancy restaurant, after the cheese and fruit, or handed to you with your change at the burger shop.
Until that happens, you might want to have some on hand. A patient I will call Dean travels for work, and can't always control what ends up on his plate. Homeopathic and nutritional treatments have eased all the symptoms of his ulcerative colitis, but he still suffers from occasional indigestion, usually after a business dinner. The indigestion program that works for him is to take extra probiotics (Probiotic Pearls are easiest for travelers), 2 Di-Pan 9 and a leisurely walk. Works every time.