Indigestion – A common problem!
Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition of impaired gastric function. It is not a disease in itself but a group of symptoms, including pain in the upper abdomen, flatulence (wind), bloating and nausea. Heartburn is distinct from indigestion but is often included within the description of indigestion. Dyspepsia is a common complaint that can occur at any age. Symptoms may be episodic, recurrent or chronic.
Indigestion can have many possible causes including:
- Bad lifestyle habits. It can be triggered by: Eating too much or too quickly; highly processed foods, junk food, fatty or spicy foods; overindulgence in alcohol, caffeine or carbonated drinks; food sensitivities and allergies, irritating foods, e.g. citrus fruit, onion, garlic, and tomatoes; smoking; fatigue, stress or anxiety; swallowing excessive amounts of air while eating
- A variety of upper digestive tract conditions, e.g. peptic ulcers, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) with or without oesophagitis, gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying), gastritis, Helicobacter pylori infection, hiatus hernia, low or high output of stomach juices and cancer.
- Non-upper gastrointestinal tract (GIT) causes such as heart disease, pancreatic or hepatobiliary abnormalities, IBS, pregnancy and obesity.
- Certain drugs, e.g. NSAIDs, corticosteroids, some antibiotics, bisphosphonates, contraceptive pills and thyroid medication.
In traditional naturopathic philosophy the gut is considered the seat of all health. Any dysfunction in the digestive system can lead to major health consequences.
The best way to prevent, treat and gain relief from indigestion is by changing and improving nutritional and lifestyle habits:
- Reduce the size of meals to avoid overeating. Breaking down daily food intake into five or six smaller meals makes lighter work for the digestive system.
- Eating slowly and chewing food thoroughly are the first steps toward good digestion.
- Include adequate, good quality protein for barrier repair and immune support.
- Avoid or minimise the consumption of the following foods and drinks as they may cause indigestion: Caffeinated foods and beverages, alcoholic and carbonated drinks, fatty or spicy foods, processes foods and foods high in salt or refined sugar, acidic foods (including tomatoes and citrus fruits), cabbage, broccoli, beans, Brussels sprouts.
- Certain herbs and spices promote digestion, soothe the gastrointestinal tract and reduce wind, e.g. ginger, turmeric, parsley and garlic.
- Increase intake of dietary anti-inflammatories by including pineapple (bromelain) and paw paw (papain). The digestive enzymes bromelain and papain assist with digestion.
- Garlic aids in digestion and destroys unwanted bacteria.
- Adequate fibre in the diet is important to bulk up the stool and to promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
- Drink 8 glasses of water daily to neutralise acids and to reduce bloating.
Beyond the diet
- If stress is a trigger for indigestion, use calming techniques such as exercise, meditation and biofeedback.
- Smokers should consider quitting, or at least not smoking right before eating, as smoking can irritate the stomach lining.
- Wear loose, unrestrictive clothing around the abdomen.
- Avoid bending or lying down right after eating.
- Wait at least 2-3 hours after the last meal of the day before going to bed.
- Raise the head of the bed 15 to 20 cm.
- Reduce weight if obesity is an issue.
- Exercise aids the digestive process.
Supplements and herbs
A wide range of supplements is available to support digestive health some of which may assist in the metabolism and absorption of foods. Others stimulate gastric and bile secretions or reduce mucosal permeability.
Herbs such as ginger, fennel, chamomile and peppermint all have been used for centuries in the treatment of indigestion to relieve nausea, vomiting, flatulence and to soothe intestinal spasm.
For more information come into the dispensary and talk to one of our highly qualified practitioners.
Maria is one of our highly talented resident Naturopaths and Medical Herbalists. She has over 13 years experience in complementary medicine and co-founder of Advanced Naturopathics, a Naturopathic clinic in Christchurch. She uses a variety of non-invasive modalities including nutrition, herbal medicine, homotoxicology and Bicom bioresonance therapy.