Indigestion, or dyspepsia or upset stomach, refers broadly to discomfort in your stomach and upper abdomen. While it’s not a disease or necessarily a cause for alarm, indigestion is uncomfortable, painful, and may point to a more serious underlying condition.1 Read on to learn more about indigestion and how you can get rid of it with natural remedies.
Symptoms of Indigestion
Indigestion is a relatively common occurrence, but everyone experiences it differently. Some may only experience it occasionally, while others may have indigestion on a daily basis. The main symptoms to look for in indigestion include:
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- Getting full early during a meal
- An uncomfortable level of fullness after a regular meal
- Mild to severe pain between the bottom of your breastbone and your bellybutton
- An uncomfortable heat or burning sensation in your upper abdomen
- Gas and bloating in the upper abdomen
Sometimes indigestion may also be accompanied by heartburn, but the two are separate conditions. Heartburn is characterized by a burning pain in the chest during or after eating. This is caused by stomach acids backing up into esophagus, which is known as acid reflux. The pain worsens when lying down or bending over as the acid presses against your esophagus, and you may have a bitter or acidic taste in your mouth.2 See our article on natural remedies for heartburn here.
Indigestion Home Remedies
Thankfully, you generally shouldn’t need to see a doctor for mild indigestion, which can easily be remedied at home. There are plenty of natural ways to deal with indigestion. Here are some of the most common home remedies for indigestion.
A cup of peppermint tea may soothe your upset stomach. Studies show that peppermint may activate an anti-pain channel in the colon known as TRPM8. Activation of this channel may reduce symptoms of indigestion and bowel hypersensitivity (irritable bowel syndrome).4 Peppermint has also been shown to calm stomach muscles and improve the flow of bile, which helps digest fats. However, you should avoid peppermint tea if you are suffering from heartburn or acid reflux as it may worsen symptoms.5
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been touted for providing a wide range of health benefits. While not many studies have been done on apple cider vinegar for indigestion, it has been studied for weight loss and was found to increase satiety, helping you to feel fuller and avoid overeating.
Acetic acid, the main active and acidic component in apple cider vinegar, helps maintain healthy blood pressure and stabilizes spikes in blood sugar levels. However, avoid drinking too much apple cider or consuming it without diluting it first. Raw apple cider contributes to tooth erosion and throat burn and may make nausea worse.6
Apple cider vinegar may be helpful for indigestion for two reasons. By increasing satiety, it helps you eat less and can make it easier for your stomach to break down and start digesting food.
Indigestion is also thought to be a condition whereby the stomach produces too little stomach acid. Stomach acid plays a central role in the process of digestion. Stomach acid breaks down food at the molecular level and activates digestive enzymes that break down food even faster.
Apple cider vinegar is naturally acidic, so consuming apple cider vinegar provides your stomach with acidity and increases the production of stomach acids.
As mentioned above, digestive enzymes are integral to the digestive process. These molecular powerhouses catalyze thousands of reactions per second and help break down larger molecules into smaller, more digestible pieces.
Digestive enzymes may be one of the best natural ways to relieve indigestion. Different digestive enzymes break down different food components, including fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into their smaller components. For example, proteases break down protein into amino acids, while lipases break down fats into fatty acids. These are the pieces that the body is able to absorb and use. Therefore it is recommended to choose a supplement with a variety of enzymes for better digestion.
Due to aging or certain health conditions, your body may secrete insufficient amounts of digestive enzymes. This prevents the full and complete digestion of food, which may result in indigestion and other gastrointestinal problems while preventing the proper absorption vitamins and minerals in foods.
Thankfully, digestive enzyme supplements help break down proteins into amino acids which act as a signal to increase stomach acid production, helping your gut to properly break down meals.3
Ginger is commonly used as a spice, but it may also help with indigestion. Ginger contains an active compound known as gingerol. Along with its antioxidant properties, gingerol is believed to help alleviate indigestion and nausea.7 While the exact mechanisms are not well known, studies have shown that gingerol promotes gastric emptying and gastrointestinal motility. It may also be effective as a gastroprotective agent.16 Ginger can be eaten fresh, dried, cooked, or pickled, and it is widely available in supplement form. Grate ginger into your dishes, or make a simple ginger tea to help soothe your indigestion.
Available raw or in the form of tea, fennel is known to possess antimicrobial properties and may help with a variety of gastrointestinal disorders, including indigestion, gas, and diarrhea.8
Probiotics can help to replenish the natural beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut. These microbes also contribute to digestion. They feed off of food that your body cannot digest absorb, contributing to more complete digestion.
Lifestyle Changes for Indigestion
If you are wondering what helps indigestions, here are some simple lifestyle changes you can implement to keep indigestion symptoms at bay.
Eating too fast overloads your digestive tract, forcing your digestive system to take much longer to break down food. More importantly, eating too fast also tends to mean that you are not chewing your food thoroughly, introducing larger pieces of food into your system. This can add to your discomfort and increase the amount of time necessary to fully digest your food.
To prevent poor digestion, avoid eating food fast and rushing your meals. Take your time with each meal and chew each mouthful completely before swallowing. You may also find it beneficial to eat four or five smaller meals spread throughout the day instead of eating three larger meals.
Don’t eat large meals just before bed. Lying down immediately after a meal prevents your body from properly digesting food, leading to an upset stomach and disturbed sleep. Your last meal should come at least two to three hours before you settle into bed. Always make sure that you have enough water to drink during and between meals.9
Stress has become something of a modern epidemic. While it might seem to be all in your head, stress has some very real effects on your physiology and health, your digestive system included. In some people, stress chemicals can slow down digestion. In others, stress increases the acids in your stomach. Both can result in indigestion and other gastrointestinal distress, including bloating, diarrhea, and a loss of appetite. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to eating too fast, not chewing food properly, skipping meals, and other unhealthy behaviors that may contribute to indigestion.
Try to find healthy, constructive ways to manage your stress. This can include breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. Maintaining a regular exercise regimen may also help to relieve stress while keeping your body active. Keep your mealtimes calm, happy, and relaxed, which means no arguing or otherwise angry conversations at the dinner table. 9
By now, you know all the ill effects that smoking has on your health, from damage to your lungs to an increased risk of heart disease, but if you need another reason to quit smoking: cigarettes can cause indigestion and other gastrointestinal issues. Cigarette smoke can irritate your stomach lining, resulting in a weakened gut. Smoking has also been shown to weaken the muscle that controls the lower portion of the esophagus. This makes it easier for stomach acids to travel back up the esophagus, resulting in acid reflux and heartburn.10
Medications That May Cause Indigestion
Although medications are designed to help you feel better, some can cause an upset stomach and other digestive problems as a side effect.
Some medicines can disrupt the action of the sphincter muscle that controls your esophagus, resulting in increased chances of acid reflux. These medicines include:
- Calcium channel blockers
- Oral antibiotics
- Birth control pills11
One of the most prominent culprits of indigestion are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These medications, which include ibuprofen and other pain relievers, are known to irritate the stomach lining and weaken the lining’s ability to resist stomach acids. This may result in indigestion, inflammation (gastritis), ulcers, and leaky gut syndrome.11
Some medications can affect the nerve and muscle activity in the large intestine. This makes passing stools slower and more difficult, resulting in constipation. Medication that may contribute to constipation include:
- Antacids that contain aluminum
- Narcotics/pain medications11
Antibiotics, including clindamycin, penicillin, and cephalosporins, are also known to cause gastrointestinal issues. Although they are effective at eliminating bacterial infections, antibiotics are not particularly good at identifying good bacteria from bad bacteria. This can cause dysbiosis, or an imbalance in your natural gut flora, which may result in diarrhea and C. diff infections.11
You may be able to prevent upset stomach by taking these medications with a meal and a full glass of water. For antibiotics, you may find it helpful to eat probiotic-rich foods or take a probiotic supplement to replenish the good bacteria in your gut. If possible, consult your doctor to determine alternate medications.11
Foods That Cause Indigestion
Part of indigestion treatment involves avoiding foods that commonly trigger indigestion.
Alcohol can inhibit the secretion of digestive enzymes from your pancreas, which prevents the proper breakdown of foods. Furthermore, alcohol irritates and damages the lining in your stomach and intestines, causing inflammation and poor absorption of vitamins and nutrients.
Alcohol’s effects can also cause relaxation in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The lower esophageal sphincter is the one-way valve that is designed to keep the stomach’s contents down. Relaxing the LES allows for increased indigestion, and heartburn. Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to less healthy food choices, which can result in consuming foods that can contribute to your indigestion. These are just some of the reasons why alcohol causes indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux.
While it’s fine to enjoy the occasional drink, binge drinking or drinking when your stomach is feeling sensitive may not be the best idea if you want to avoid digestive problems.12
Coffee and other caffeinated beverages tend to be highly acidic, which may irritate your gut and lead to gas, bloating, and general indigestion. Caffeine has also been shown to be a possible trigger for heartburn and acid reflux in some people as it can relax the lower esophageal sphincter. If you find that coffee exacerbates your indigestion or other digestive symptoms, consider cutting back or switching to teas, which tend to contain less caffeine and offer more soothing benefits.13
Peppers and other spicy foods contain an ingredient known as capsaicin. This ingredient is responsible for the characteristic burning in the mouth and on the lips, but that burning sensation is your body’s reaction to a natural irritant. It’s not surprising then that capsaicin can irritate the stomach and intestines. This most often results in diarrhea, though symptoms of indigestion can vary based on your personal sensitivities to spicy foods.
Milk and Other Dairy Products
About 65 percent of the global population is lactose intolerant, resulting in gastrointestinal problems after consuming milk and other dairy products. The key here is lactose, the natural sugar found in milk and products made from milk. Lactase is the enzyme designed to digest and break down lactose. Many people tend to produce less lactase as they get older. Without enough lactase, they are unable to process dairy products, resulting in gas, bloating, and other gastrointestinal problems. Staying away from milk products tends to be the most effective solution, but lactase supplements can help those who can’t live without their milk and dairy.15
While fats are necessary to any diet, high-fat foods tend to be harder to digest and will sit in your stomach for longer. This contributes to feelings of indigestion.
You can reduce indigestion by making changes to your diet and the way you eat. Avoid trigger foods and eat smaller meals. If these do not help consider adding Digestive Enzymes or other natural remedies for indigestion. Consult your doctor if indigestion continues to affect your overall quality of life after making these changes.