A natural approach to indigestion
It’s holiday time and indulging is part of the fun, right? Be a tad cautious this festive season – the fun can fizzle out fast if you overdo it.
For most of us, Christmas is synonymous with tucking into rich foods, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and negotiating end-of-year stresses like visiting guests, family disputes and last-minute shopping.
Unfortunately, both overindulgence and stress could lead to indigestion.
Indigestion (also known as dyspepsia) is persistent or recurrent pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. It’s mostly triggered when you eat and isn't caused by excess stomach acid.
Indigestion: symptoms and causes
Most people experience some symptoms of indigestion in their life. These may include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Bloating and a feeling of fullness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Burning sensation in the stomach or upper abdomen
- Burping, belching and gas
- Acidic taste
While indigestion can also be caused by conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), lifestyle factors are often at the root of the problem.
These factors include:
- Eating too much or too quickly
- Eating during stressful situations
- Eating foods with a high fat content
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Stress, anxiety and fatigue
- Cigarette smoking
How to prevent holiday indigestion
Restraining yourself in any way might be the last thing on your mind this festive season. But if you've been bothered by indigestion before, you’ll know how miserable it can make you feel.
If you know from past experience that certain foods or situations seem to cause indigestion, it makes sense to try and avoid them over the holidays.
Other simple diet and lifestyle steps can also cut your risk, lowering your need for over-the-counter medication:
- Eat several small meals instead of overeating at two to three super-sized meals.
- Try to eat slowly.
- Don’t talk while chewing and don’t chew with your mouth open. This results in swallowing too much air, which can worsen indigestion.
- Avoid acid-rich foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits.
- Cut down or avoid fatty, greasy or spicy foods, caffeine, fizzy cool drinks and chocolate. Some people find that these foods make indigestion worse.
- Try to limit alcohol as it can irritate the stomach lining. Alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water.
- Don’t drink fluids during meals; rather drink them afterwards.
- Consider quitting smoking, or at least avoid lighting up before or after eating.
- Avoid late-night snacking.
- Wait at least two to three hours after eating before you lie down.
- When you go to sleep after eating, use pillows to elevate your head at least 15cm above your feet. This will enable digestive juices to travel to the intestines instead of the oesophagus.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing that constricts your abdominal area. This tends to squash the stomach, which may result in stomach contents entering the oesophagus.
- Add digestion-enhancing foods like mint, fennel, ginger, cumin seeds and caraway seeds to your meals.
- Yoghurt, buttermilk and other fermented food products can help to restore the stomach’s microbial flora. Make a point of eating these foods regularly.
- Alleviate indigestion with some exercise, but never exercise on a full stomach. Try to get active before a meal or at least one hour after eating. You can easily incorporate some dancing or walking into your holiday.
- Some people say that rubbing the area where gas gets trapped in the stomach, twisting the upper torso, and doing exercises such as rolling on the floor may help to alleviate discomfort caused by indigestion.
- If you tend to suffer from stress or anxiety, try therapies like massage, relaxation or meditation to reduce the likelihood of triggering indigestion.
Natural remedies for indigestion
If the above steps don’t quite do the trick, you can also try natural remedies for indigestion:
- Peppermint oil combined with caraway oil may help relieve indigestion. You can also try enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules. These may help relieve abdominal pain, bloating and gas.
- Artichoke leaf extract is believed to improve digestion by stimulating the flow of bile from the liver.
- Probiotics, charcoal tablets and dietary fibre may also help to alleviate some symptoms of indigestion.
Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements to make sure they won’t interact with any regular medications you’re taking.
Check in with your doctor
Lastly, if you’re concerned about your indigestion, and it persists after the holidays, consult your doctor to rule out any other underlying conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
This is especially important if you experience vomiting or blood in vomit, black, tarry stools, severe pain in the upper right abdomen or discomfort unrelated to eating.
- MayoClinic.org. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/indigestion/basics/alternative-medicine/con-20034440
- Medicinenet.com. http://www.medicinenet.com/dyspepsia/symptoms.htm
- National Institutes of Health: Digestive Disorders Health Center: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/indigestion/index.aspx