Do you experience pain or a burning feeling in the upper belly or abdomen? Then it might be indigestion, a common condition in adults that also occurs in kids and pets. If you or a member of your family experiences this condition, there are lots of remedies that may help.
What is Indigestion?
You probably think of indigestion as nothing more than a generalized discomfort that includes bloating, gas, pain, burping, constipation or diarrhea. But it isn’t always as simple as that. Digestion is a complex action that requires the coordination of organs and enzymes and it can occur at the same time as other conditions.
For example, indigestion and heartburn often occur together but aren’t the same thing. When you have heartburn, your stomach acid moves out of the stomach and back up into the esophagus. Foods that commonly trigger heartburn include alcohol, especially red wine, caffeinated coffee and tea, onions, garlic, hot spices, chocolate, peppermint, tomatoes, and citrus.
Indigestion on the other hand doesn’t involve the stomach acids and so demands quite different treatment.
When Indigestion is Serious
Sometimes, indigestion can be more than a painful but relatively benign problem. If you experience any of the following symptoms, please consult a doctor immediately:
- Frequent vomiting
- Blood in vomit
- Weight loss or not feeling hungry
- Bloody, black, or tarry stools
- Sudden sharp pain in the belly or abdomen
- Trouble breathing
- Sweating after eating
- Pain that spreads to the jaw, neck, or arm
- Difficult, painful swallowing
- Yellow coloring of eyes or skin (jaundice)
- Indigestion that lasts longer than 2 weeks
Indigestion in Pets
Most pet indigestion is most gastric distress caused by eating the wrong food, too much food, or too much of a certain type of food. These issues can cause stomach problems such as nausea and eventually weight loss.
If you have a dog with indigestion, try putting them on a mild diet of cooked chicken and rice, pumpkin, bone broth and baby food. If your sick pet is a cat, then you will need to put them on a mild diet made up of meat sources as cats are pure carnivores and don’t tolerate other foods well.
These fairly simple remedies often help pets a lot; however, humans are a lot more complicated.
photo by Samuel Berner
Common Causes of Chronic Indigestion
If you experience regular or chronic indigestion, it may be caused by:
- Sores or ulcers in the stomach or small intestine
- Redness and swelling or inflammation in the stomach (gastritis)
- Acid flowing back from the stomach into the esophagus (GERD or gastro-esophageal reflux disease)
- Bacterial infection in the stomach (H. pylori or Helicobacter pylori)
- Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)
- Lumps of solid material (gallstones) in the gallbladder
- Swelling of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Food moving too slowly out of the stomach (gastro-paresis) (common in people with diabetes)
- Having too much caffeine
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Fast eating
- Spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
- High-fiber foods that irritate digestion
- Eating too frequently or eating a meal before digesting the previous meal
- Eating too late at night
- Bacteria-fighting medicines (antibiotics)
- Aspirin and over-the-counter pain and fever medicines (NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
Common Symptoms of Indigestion
Everyone is different and you may experience some or all of these indigestion symptoms:
- Feeling full too soon while eating
- Pain, burning, and discomfort in the upper belly or abdomen
- Feeling bloated
- Burping and loud stomach gurgling
- An upset stomach or vomiting
The problems caused by indigestion discomforts may also look like other health problems or hide other health problems. For example, jaw pain, shoulder pain, digestive upset, and upper abdominal pain and indigestion can be early symptoms of heart disease in women. So, make sure you get these checked out before self-diagnosing.
How is Indigestion Diagnosed?
If you suspect that you have indigestion, your doctor will look at your past health history and conduct a physical exam. This may include blood tests, stool tests, and X-rays. It is important to go through this process to get an official diagnosis and eliminate other illnesses. However, you can also take steps at home to prevent and ease simple indigestion.
How to Improve Indigestion Symptoms
To put it simply, you need to avoid foods and medicines that cause indigestion. Also, it is important to avoid stressful situations. Good luck with that in 2020 with COVID-19 threatening the country, the winter holidays and an absentee government.
If you can’t prevent indigestion symptoms just with these ideas, here are a few more helpful tips:
- Quit smoking
- Pay attention to wise food combining
- Separate protein meals from starch meals and eat them separately because they require different digestive enzymes.
- Avoid mixing sweet or acidic fruits with protein and starch because the sugar in fruits digest faster than protein. Mixing foods like complex starches or animal proteins and rich sauces with fruits makes gas bubbles in the gut.
- Eat a salad with a protein such as meat or cheese as the salad will help the meal pass through the digestive tract quicker and easier.
Simplify Your Meals
Another effective tactic is to simplify your meals by:
- Eating at regular meal times.
- Chewing foods thoroughly to increase the stomach acids that are necessary for good digestion.
- Eating more vegetables than animal protein in a meal:
- 2 oz. of meat for women (the size of a matchbox)
- 4 oz of meat (the size of a deck of playing cards) for men
- If you eat dessert, separate it from a meal by at least 4 hours. Have dessert with afternoon tea.
- Taking digestive enzymes to improve digestion if necessary
- Refraining from arguing or watching upsetting news during meals
photo by Светлана Хуснутдинова
If you’re really struggling with indigestion, then your doctor may recommend medications. These are designed to perform specific actions which you can also accomplish with more natural, gentler strategies.
For example, many indigestion medications help the stomach move food more quickly into the small intestine. This can also be accomplished naturally by eating more greens, laxative foods and drinking green or oolong tea.
Other medications help to decrease the amount of acid in the stomach. You can also help with this by soaking whole grains (overnight adding lemon juice) before cooking to reduce their acidity. Avoiding sugar will also reduce acid levels.
And other medications are designed to kill bacteria (antibiotics). Your doctor will recommend this when tests show you have the H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori) bacteria in your stomach. You can improve your gut flora naturally with probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir etc. see below.
The Dangers of Medications
Some medications can actually contribute to or cause indigestion and should be avoided where possible. These include aspirin and over-the-counter pain and fever medicines (NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). If you must take these medications, make sure you do so after you eat.
How to Prevent Indigestion
There are many things you can do to prevent indigestion. Making changes in your lifestyle, diet and eating habits can help. The most effective prevention strategies include:
- Eating several small meals each day instead of 3 large meals
- Eating slowly and ensuring that you take enough time for meals
- Limiting spicy, fatty, greasy, or high-fiber foods
- Chewing food well
- Limiting or not having any coffee, soda, or alcohol
- Quit smoking and drugs
- Avoid alcohol during the evening or before bed
- Get enough rest
- Find ways to lower emotional and physical stress, such as meditation or yoga, prayer, deep breathing, visualize comfortable digestion
- Exercising before a meal or waiting at least 1 hour after eating.
photo by Sandy Zebua
Foods to Correct Indigestion
Even healthy people can experience digestive problems due to a lack of fiber or too few probiotic-rich foods in your diet. If you believe that your indigestion may be caused by your diet, then here are some foods that may help:
This is made from milk that has been fermented, typically by lactic acid bacteria. It contains probiotics, which can aid digestion by promoting healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
A rich source of pectin, a soluble fiber. For even more fiber, make sure that you eat apples with the peel. Pectin bypasses digestion in the small intestine and is then broken down by the friendly bacteria in the colon. It increases stool volume and is therefore commonly used to resolve constipation and diarrhea. It has also been shown to decrease the risk of intestinal infections, as well as inflammation in the colon.
This plant has a pale bulb and long green stalks and is used to add flavor to food. Its fiber helps prevent constipation and improves regularity in the digestive tract.
A cultured dairy product made by adding kefir “grains” to milk. These “grains” result from mixing yeast and bacteria with milk and have digestive benefits.
Like the probiotics in yogurt, kefir’s cultures aid the digestion of lactose, decreasing lactose intolerance symptoms such as bloating, cramping and gas. Kefir consumption has also been associated with decreased inflammation in the gut, further enhancing the digestion process.
An excellent source of protein and fiber, which causes them to form a gelatin-like substance in the stomach once soaked and consumed. They work like a prebiotic to support the growth of healthy gut bacteria and contribute to healthy digestion.
A fermented tea made by adding specific strains of bacteria, sugar and yeast to black or green tea. The mix then undergoes fermentation for a week or more. Kombucha’s ample probiotic content improves digestion and gut health. The drink may also help heal stomach ulcers.
This fruit contains a digestive enzyme known as papain that helps break down protein fibers. Papain may also ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as constipation and bloating. It’s commonly used as the main enzyme in digestive supplements due to its gastrointestinal capacities.
These must contain 100% of the kernel including the bran, germ and endosperm to be an official whole grain. They contain lots of fiber, which aids digestion. Some grain fibers act like prebiotics and help feed healthy bacteria in the gut. Whole grains can also help support healthy digestion by adding bulk to reduce constipation and increase healthy gut bacteria.
Some popular whole grains are:
- Products made from whole wheat
- Semolina wheat pastas from Italy where they do not use Roundup and other deadly pesticides
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, which makes them a good source of probiotics that create a protective lining in the intestines to shield them from harmful bacteria. Studies have found that probiotics help to alleviate IBS symptoms, prevent diarrhea, decrease bloating and improve regularity
A good source of fiber, beetroot’s nutrients can help improve digestion by feeding friendly gut bacteria and adding bulk to the stool. Beets are also nutritious, and they enhance circulation.
Commonly consumed in miso soup, miso is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji, a type of fungus. Like other fermented foods, it helps improve digestion by increasing the good gut bacteria
Ginger Root Tea
Helps improve digestion and prevent nausea. Ginger appears to expedite food’s movement through the stomach, easing certain side effects associated with slow digestion. It has also been used to treat nausea, including morning sickness during pregnancy.
This is usually made from fermented cabbage, and sometimes other fermented vegetables. It contains probiotics that help with digestion and promote the growth of good bacteria in the colon. The longer kimchi ferments, the higher the concentration of probiotics.
Dark Green Vegetables
These are an excellent source of insoluble fiber. Some of the most common dark green vegetables are spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and other leafy greens. Green vegetables play a role in healthy digestion by providing fiber and magnesium to the diet, as well as feeding good bacteria in the gut.
Like tempeh, natto is made from fermented soybeans. Natto contains probiotics that serve as a defence mechanism against toxins and harmful bacteria while also increasing healthy gut bacteria that improve digestion. Natto’s rich probiotic content can also aid gastrointestinal health and digestion, improving the regularity of stools and reducing constipation.
Typically eaten plain or with a hot mustard sauce on rice, some popular toppings for natto include kimchi, soy sauce, green onion and eggs. It can also be eaten with cooked rice.
This nutritious food is fermented with lactic acid, so contains probiotics. Research suggests that a half-cup (71-gram) serving may contain up to 28 distinct bacterial strains that increase good gut bacteria.
An excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon can help reduce inflammation in the body. People with inflammatory bowel disease, food intolerances and other digestive disorders often have inflammation in the gut. By reducing this inflammation, salmon may improve the digestive process
This is made by simmering the bones, fat and connective tissues of animals. Bone broth gelatin derives from the amino acids glutamine and glycine. Glutamine protects the functioning of the intestinal wall. It has also been shown to improve leaky gut and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Bone broth is also an excellent source of glucosamine, which helps build collagen for joint health and beauty.
Peppermint Tea and Oil
These are made from the essential oils found in peppermint leaves and have been shown to improve digestive problems.
These essential oils contain menthol, which may ease symptoms of IBS, including bloating, stomach discomfort and bowel movement issues. They may also help relax the muscles of the digestive tract, improving digestion and accelerating the food’s movement through the digestive system.
photo by Alex Hu
Digestive discomforts are a challenge that can and should be improved by eating foods that are helpful in easing symptoms and building wellness. Some of the best foods for this are featured in the Academy of Healing Nutrition’s “Longevity Diet.” and include:
- Fermented foods such as miso, fermented vegetables and yogurt to increase probiotics
- Fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, dark green vegetables, seaweeds, nuts and seeds, vegetables and green tea.
- Proteins that provide safe, effective sources of energy and wellness and have been used successfully for generations
- A wide variety of nutritious foods that support digestive flora
- Healthy, traditional sources of oils that support growth, healthy brain function, and digestive wellness
- Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs and delicious health and beauty elixirs
If you need professional training on healing foods and their preparation as well as specialist information on the best seasonal diets, herbs and supplements, become a Holistic Nutritional Coach with the Academy of Healing Nutrition online, in New York and London.