Got an upset tummy? We've all been there!
Indigestion is never any fun to be experiencing, it can actually be quite debilitating taking you away from activities and showing up as your best.
Digestive symptoms are important to address because they affect your entire body, and can result in health conditions over time.
Before we get into solutions, let's first understand what indigestion really is.
What is indigestion?
Indigestion is the general term used to describe discomfort in the upper abdomen. It is a collection of symptoms that may arise around or after meals.
Common symptoms associated with indigestion include cramping, heartburn, feeling uncomfortably full during or after meals, nausea, stomach pain, and bloating.
What causes indigestion?
Indigestion can be a result of poor eating habits but also infections, smoking, emotional issues, dysbiosis, medications, and certain imbalances. Eating too quickly, not chewing your food properly, eating on the go, overeating, and eating too close to bedtime are all improper eating habits that can cause digestive upset.
Foods that can increase the likelihood of experiencing indigestion include fatty and greasy foods, spicy foods, coffee, alcohol, and dairy.
Though we encourage you to investigate what may be driving your indigestion, certain natural remedies can help alleviate any discomfort in the meantime.
Natural remedies and tips for indigestion
Charcoal has been used for many years in hospitals to treat cases of food poisoning and even overdosing.
Activated charcoal is usually made from burning coconuts shells which changes its chemical structure into a fine charcoal powder that can bind to harmful compounds.
This natural supplement works by absorbing and trapping toxins and gases in the gut so they can be eliminated via the bowls while calming the digestive system.
You can use charcoal at home in powder or capsule form to alleviate gas or bloating. Always drink lots of water to avoid constipation. Don't be alarmed if your stools turn black as this is an indicator of the charcoal leaving your body.
Avoid taking supplements with activated charcoal as it may bind to whatever is currently in your system and eliminate it. This is also why we don't recommend taking it long-term but instead in acute cases. Always be careful if you are taking medications and check in with your health care provider before supplementing.
Ginger is a well-known herb and digestive aid, used as a long-time remedy for improving tummy troubles. What makes ginger so powerful? One word, gingerol. Although ginger has over 115 constituents, gingerol in particular has powerful medicinal and anti-inflammatory properties.
Ginger can be used for stomach upset, heartburn, cramping, gas, and bloating, and to relieve nausea or even vomiting (1). As a digestive carminative and stimulant, it can help improve indigestion and reduce constipation by increasing the rate of stomach emptying. Whether you react to food from a restaurant, had too much to eat, or ate too quickly, ginger is a great natural remedy to have in your holistic tool kit.
Use ginger in cooking for extra flavor and to reduce digestive discomfort.
You may not automatically think of turmeric as a digestive aid, however, this herb is extremely versatile in its effects throughout the body.
Turmeric is an ayurvedic spice used in cooking but it can also treat many conditions and alleviate digestive problems. Its main active component, curcumin, is well known for its anti-inflammatory actions. Not only is it a potent anti-inflammatory, curcumin has actually been shown to be effective at relieving heartburn or acid reflux by protecting the mucosal lining in the gastrointestinal tract due to its antioxidant nature (2).
Curcumin supplementation is the best way to fully receive its therapeutic effects however we encourage you to include turmeric spice or root in your cooking as well!
Another ancient remedy, chamomile is actually said to be one of the most ancient medicinal herbs known to mankind! Chamomile is a popular herbal remedy usually taken as a tea when symptoms like bloating manifest.
Chamomile is especially effective at decreasing symptoms like gas and bloating by lowering inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, soothing the stomach, and relaxing the muscles involved with peristalsis (3). It has been shown to be an effective natural treatment for digestive disorders, abdominal pain, ulcers, and gastrointestinal irritation.
Chamomile is also a nervous system relaxant that can help support digestion by helping to regulate the parasympathetic response, improving digestive function and secretions as well as gastrointestinal disturbances such as IBS and colitis (4).
Chamomile is most commonly taken in tea form, in fact this herb is one of the world’s most popular herbal teas with about a million cups being consumed each and every day!
This sequence would not be complete without peppermint!
Not only does peppermint taste and smell heavenly, but it also can alleviate digestive discomfort fairly quickly.
Peppermint is a cooling herb that helps to calm the digestive system - reducing pain and discomfort and demonstrating success in treating cases such as IBS (5).
Peppermint can be used in a variety of ways to benefit digestive health such as teas, essential oil topical applications, and capsules. Though most studies have observed the effects of peppermint on digestion using capsules of peppermint oil (6).
Baking soda is a simple and natural remedy that can be used to treat occasional indigestion and typical symptoms associated such as acid reflux. The active ingredient found in baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, is also found in many antacid medications
Check-in with your health care provider before using baking soda. This should not be used for long-term relief.
Our digestive system is home to bacteria, some good and some not so good. Lack of beneficial microbes and an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria can result in dysbiosis and digestive issues.
Probiotics can help to improve indigestion. These live microorganisms provide many beneficial effects for gut health by regulating normal bowel function, protecting the stomach lining, and relieving abdominal symptoms.
Remember not all probiotics are created equal! Look for a quality supplement and make sure you rotate with different strains to ensure you are receiving a diverse variety of microbes. Adopting a whole foods diet with plenty of fiber and probiotic-rich foods will also help to create a healthy ecosystem in the gut.
Fennel is a culinary herb which can not only provide flavor to a meal but also plenty of benefits for digestive health,
This herb is well known for its digestive healing properties in aiding to relieve digestive symptoms post meal. Fennel is a carminative herb meaning it is rich in volatile oils that help to relax the gastrointestinal muscles, enhance gastroesophageal motility, regulate gut contractions, relieve cramping and expel gas.
Consuming fennel can help to move things along in there helping to prevent indigestion from occuring.
You can reap the benefits of this herb by chewing on fennel seeds or consuming as a tea.
Aloe Vera Juice
The aloe vera plant is naturally anti-inflammatory and can even reduce acid production in the stomach.It is commonly used topically to relieve certain skin conditions, such as burns, but did you know you can also consume it orally?
As a juice it is highly soothing to the digestive tract when taken internally and has been shown to be a safe and effective treatment for acid reflux, reducing the frequency of GERD related symptoms (9).
Aloe vera juice is recommended to consume before a meal to support healthy digestion of food and avoid the feeling of an achy stomach.
We couldn't complete this list without atleast mentioning water, because it's essential for a healthy body but also a healthy digestive system! Drinking water can help to promote the flushing of waste and toxins and move food through the intestinal tract, which can indirectly help to reduce reflux. Drinking liquids is essential to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration but also avoid the risk of constipation.
Certain beverages that can make digestive symptoms worse may include caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages.
Water is definitely our drink of choice and it's essential to be consuming enough during your day. Start your day with a big glass of water to rehydrate the body and promote healthy bowel movements.
Avoiding lying down
Lying down after meals is a terrible idea because it can promote symptoms of indigestion and discomfort, interfering with the digestive process. This is because it can cause stomach acid levels to rise and interfere with the proper functioning of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), whose job is to prevent food from flowing backwards from the stomach into the esophagus.
A study found that less than 3 hours between your last meal and bedtime could promote GERD. This is why nutritionists are quick to recommend a lighter dinner and a good break between your meals and lie down time (10).
Warm bath or heating bag
With winter coming, who doesn't like a nice warm relaxing bath? Well, it could help your digestion too!
Heat helps to relax the muscles thus alleviating pain and providing a soothing effect on the body. An epsom salt bath may also be a good idea as the magnesium absorbed through the skin can be effective at releasing muscle tension and relaxing the nervous system. Stress can make digestive issues worse and is directly correlated with worsened symptoms therefore doing relaxing activities regularly will be essential.
Applying heat to the abdominal area can also help to provide some relief.
The BRAT diet is often recommended for cases of digestive upset. This acronym stands for bananas, rice, apples, and toast and represent easily digestible foods that can help to ease stomach symptoms. This low fiber diet that is typically recommended to treat stomach problems and can be especially helpful if you are experiencing symptoms such as feelings of nausea, vomiting or loose stools. These bland foods can help your stomach feel better while solidifying bowel movements if you are experiencing diarrhea.
Though this diet is highly restrictive it is only recommended when necessary for short periods of time until you are able to tolerate all foods again.
Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol
It's generally accepted knowledge to avoid smoking for health but how does it impact digestion?
Smoking can be harmful to your gut in a number of ways but it can specifically increase the risk of GERD as it has been shown to weaken the esophageal sphincter making it easier for stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, where we definitely don't want it to go!
Alcohol consumption has also been shown to increase the odds of experiencing indigestion (11) . Alcohol is inflammatory in the gastrointestinal tract and can trigger acid reflux by relaxing the sphincter responsible for keeping acid in the stomach.
It goes without saying that the more you drink and the more frequently the higher the risk of GERD.
Our suggestion? Avoid as much as possible especially if you are experiencing digestive upset.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.