Indigestion is the common term used for many digestive tract problems. The pain of indigestion or heartburn is familiar to most people – particularly after eating a large or rich meal.
Indigestion is a term that covers a large variety of assorted problems which include symptoms such as:
- Heartburn and reflux
- Gas or burping
- Abdominal pressure and flatulence
- Mild nausea (sometimes accompanied by vomiting)
- Discomfort on swallowing
- A constant sore throat may also be associated with reflux
The most common causes of indigestion are eating too much food, food that is too rich or difficult to digest, and eating too quickly or whilst under stress. All of these factors can contribute to an imbalance in the stomach’s production of gastric acid and digestive enzymes.
Obesity, smoking and caffeine and alcohol intake are major risk factors for chronic indigestion problems (i.e. those that occur frequently over a long period).
Underlying health conditions should be investigated, as feelings of indigestion may also be due to digestive conditions such as peptic ulcers.
- Digestive enzymes are available in supplement form to assist your body to break down foods.
- Bitter herbs such as gentian, dandelion root and globe artichoke improve stomach function by signalling the stomach to start production of gastric acid; take one teaspoonful of herbal bitters mixed in water about 15 minutes before meals.
- Slippery elm is soothing to inflamed mucous membranes of the stomach and protects it from further irritation by food or acid secretion.
Take time to eat your food slowly and chew it thoroughly. When you eat too fast, you don’t chew food thoroughly and often swallow more air, causing heartburn, belching, bloating or excess gas. Additionally, chewing well allows enzymes in the saliva to commence digestion before the food reaches the stomach.
Stress interferes with normal functioning of your intestines and can result in stomach upset, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. Try not to eat when you are anxious or angry. When you’re relaxed, you tend to chew your food more completely, gastric and intestinal juices flow more freely, and digestive muscles contract and relax normally.
Fruits contain enzymes that assist with the digestion of protein and other foods. Paw paw, kiwifruit and pineapple are the best sources.Yoghurt containing “good” bacteria may also be helpful.
Chewing gum sometimes contributes to chronic indigestion problems. The chewing action and the release of saliva trick your stomach into thinking that food is on the way, causing it to start production of digestive juices.
The best remedy for indigestion is to avoid over-eating, and to relax during and after mealtimes. Also, try to avoid becoming overweight and limit smoking and the intake of caffeine and alcohol.
Eat lots of fresh foods, particularly kiwifruit, pineapple and paw paw, and take a digestive enzyme supplement if you have eaten a heavy meal.
Drink lots of fluids during the day (filtered water is best), but try not to drink too much with meals, as this can dilute the body’s digestive secretions.
Indigestion that regularly occurs following certain foods may indicate a food allergy. Try keeping a symptom diary to help you pinpoint the cause.