If you love to eat or are often stressed, indigestion is probably a daily, unwelcome guest in your life. While indigestion can be caused by other, underlying conditions, often our poor eating habits and overindulgence can play a role.
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.
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
Read: Prevent burping and farting
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
Read: Is my heartburn actually GORD?
How to prevent 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 as far as possible.
Other simple diet and lifestyle steps can also cut your risk, lowering your need for over-the-counter medication:
1. Eat several small meals instead of overeating at two to three super-sized meals.
2. Try to eat slowly.
3. Don’t talk while chewing and don’t chew with your mouth open. This results in swallowing too much air, which can worsen indigestion.
4. Avoid acid-rich foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits.
5. Cut down or avoid fatty, greasy or spicy foods, caffeine, fizzy cool drinks and chocolate. Some people find that these foods make indigestion worse.
6. Try to limit alcohol as it can irritate the stomach lining. Alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water.
7. Don’t drink fluids during meals; rather drink them afterwards.
8. Consider quitting smoking, or at least avoid lighting up before or after eating.
9. Avoid late-night snacking.
10. Wait at least two to three hours after eating before you lie down.
11. When you go to sleep after eating, use pillows to elevate your head at least 15cm above your feet.
12. Avoid wearing tight clothing that constricts your abdominal area.
13. Add digestion-enhancing foods like mint, fennel, ginger, cumin seeds and caraway seeds to your meals.
14. Eat yoghurt and other fermented food products regularly as they can help to restore the stomach’s microbial flora.
15. 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.
16. If you tend to suffer from stress or anxiety, try therapies like massage, relaxation or meditation.
Read: Acupuncture relieves indigestion
Natural remedies for indigestion
If the above steps don’t quite do the trick, you can also try natural remedies for indigestion:
1. 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.
2. Artichoke leaf extract is believed to improve digestion by stimulating the flow of bile from the liver.
3. Probiotics, charcoal tablets and dietary fibre may also help to alleviate some symptoms of indigestion.
Always contact 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 for several weeks, 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.
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Image: Gastric acid from Shutterstock
Sources: Mayo Clinic; Medicine.net; National Institutes of Health: Digestive Disorders Health Centre