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
Less frequently, people with indigestion may vomit.1 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.2
Indigestion Home Remedies
Thankfully, you generally shouldn’t need to see a doctor for mild indigestion, which can easily be remedied at home. Here are some of the most common home remedies.
Digestive Enzyme Supplements
Digestive enzymes are compounds that your body produces to break down food into its smaller component nutrients and vitamins. Different digestive enzymes break down different food components, including fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. 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. 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
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.
Apple cider vinegar may be helpful for indigestions for two reasons. By increasing satiety, it helps you eat less and can make it easier to digest food. Indigestion is also thought to be a condition whereby the stomach produces too little stomach acid. Stomach acid activates digestive enzymes and helps break down food at the molecular level.
Consuming apple cider vinegar provides your stomach with acidity and increases the production of stomach acids. 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
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
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
Lifestyle Changes for Indigestion
Along with supplements and home remedies, you can reduce the frequency of indigestion with some simple changes to your lifestyle.
Re-evaluate Your Eating Habits
Too 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. Try to find healthy, constructive ways to manage your stress. 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
Alcohol can inhibit the secretion of digestive enzymes from your pancreas, which prevents the proper breakdown of foods. Alcohol also irritates and damages the lining in your stomach and intestines, causing inflammation and preventing the proper absorption of vitamins and nutrients. All of this may result in indigestion and larger gastrointestinal issues. 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
Consult your doctor if symptoms of indigestion are affecting your overall quality of life.