Suffering from indigestion? Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: burning chest pain, belching, nausea, feeling full too early while eating, abdominal pain or upper abdominal pain.
These are all the common symptoms of indigestion. These symptoms can be distressing, debilitating, and can even interfere with your daily activities.
About 1 in 5 adults in the UK suffer from such symptoms of indigestion, however there is no singular explanation for what causes it.
You’re probably wondering if there are effective treatments that can relieve these distressing symptoms? The answer is YES!
So what is indigestion?
Indigestion, also called dyspepsia, refers to discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen. The term is not used to describe a disease, but rather a group of symptoms such as bloating, nausea, discomfort, and belching.
These symptoms are usually observed after eating, but they can also be triggered by other factors, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, overeating, taking certain medications, or pregnancy.
Indigestion usually occurs when the gastric acid comes into contact and breaks down the lining of the digestive tract. This may lead to irritation, inflammation and symptoms such as pain and swelling.
The most common type of indigestion is called functional dyspepsia.
Functional Dyspepsia is a kind of indigestion , “without evidence of organic disease.” This means that the symptoms arose without the patient falling ill to a disease (the symptoms arose spontaneously in otherwise healthy individuals).This type of indigestion affects about 15% of the general population in western countries.
The cause of functional dyspepsia is still unclear, but a number of factors could be responsible:
1. Excessive food in the stomach
2. Delay in food moving from the stomach to the duodenum (first part of the small intestine)
3. Helicobacter Pylori Infections
4. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
5. Certain trigger foods and drinks, such as spicy food, alcohol, and coffee
6. Certain medications (i.e., aspirin, some antibiotics, some painkillers, steroid medications, birth control pills)
The other form of dyspepsia is called organic dyspepsia.
The symptoms of organic dyspepsia include gastric or oesophageal cancer, disorders of the pancreas, intolerance to food or drugs, and other infections. It will require targeted and specific treatment.
This variation of indigestion causes acute suffering, and severe symptoms. Due to the severity of these symptoms, it is important that you consult your doctor or pharmacist before self-diagnosing and seeking treatment.
How You Can Prevent Indigestion:
There are many steps you can take to relieve your symptoms, or prevent them happening in the first place.
In many cases, the first line of indigestion treatment involves some lifestyle changes:
1. Dietary changes such as eating smaller amounts, eating slower
3. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and excessive amounts of sugar
4. Avoiding trigger foods (i.e. spicy meals)
5. Quitting smoking
6. Losing weight
Have A Healthy Diet
A diet that is well-balanced in nutrients, sufficient calories and tailored to exclude the foods that trigger your indigestion can help reduce the recurrence of your persistent symptoms.
There are certain foods that can trigger indigestion, however these may differ from person to person:
1. Spicy food that can alter the acidic environment of the stomach.
2. Greasy food that contains high levels of fat. Fatty foods take longer for our bodies to digest and can therefore contribute towards indigestion.
3. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt, which tend to be high in fat.
4. Alcohol,as it relaxes the lower oesophageal sphincter and can lead to excess acid production in the stomach.
5. Coffee also increases acid production that can lead to irritation in the oesophagus and stomach.
Regular exercise is not only considered an essential part of a healthy diet, and important to your overall mental well-being, but it can also help manage symptoms of indigestion.
The movements your body makes during exercise helps food move through the digestive system. Not only can exercising relieve the symptoms of indigestion, but it can also help prevent indigestion from starting in the first place
Although rigorous exercise following a meal is not recommended, a simple 20 minute walk afterwards can help relieve or avoid indigestion.
Use Natural Remedies
There are a number of natural remedies that can be used to treat indigestion including: herbal tea, ginger, fennel seeds, apple cider vinegar, and milk thistle.
There is evidence that Mastic Gum (Pistacia lentiscus), a unique resin that comes from a tree grown in the Mediterranean, can also be used to treat indigestion and other associated digestive problems.
What is Mastic Gum?
Mastic gum (Pistacia lentiscus) is a unique resin that comes from a tree grown in the Mediterranean.
This gum has been used for centuries as a natural way to improve digestion, oral health, and liver health. It contains antioxidants that may support its therapeutic properties; and the gum has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Mastic gum comes from the mastic shrub, which is a member of the pistachio family. The mastic shrub has remarkable health features when it grows on the Greek Island of Chios.
Cuts in the bark release a resin, or sap, which is solidifies into a gum. The resin is collected, washed and dried in the sun to give an ivory-coloured product. The final product can be consumed, and helps to relieve symptoms of indigestion.
How can mastic gum aid digestive health?
Medical trials demonstrated that mastic gum induces protective, anti-acid effects on the gastrointestinal system, such as relief of ulcers.
It also improves the gastric mucosal damage caused by antiulcer drugs, with no significant side effects.
What clinically proven effects does mastic gum have?
6. Supports dental hygiene
1. It may help relieve digestive issues
Research indicates that mastic gum can be used to relieve abdominal discomfort, heartburn, pain, and inflammation.
Mastic gum’s positive effect on digestion may be due to the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds it contains.
2. It may help clear H. pylori bacteria
A series of studies found that mastic gum may kill off Helicobacter pylori bacteria.
Researchers found that 19 out of 52 participants successfully cleared the infection after chewing mastic gum for two weeks.
Participants who took an antibiotic in addition to chewing mastic gum experienced the highest success rate.
There is evidence that mastic gum has antibiotic effects even against drug resistant strains of H. pylori. As a natural product, mastic gum does not induce treatment resistance in H. pylori bacterium strains.
3. It may help treat ulcers
H. pylori infections can cause peptic ulcers. The antibacterial properties of mastic gum can fight H. pylori bacteria and six other ulcer-causing bacteria.
Researchers found that doses as low as 1 mg per day of mastic gum inhibited bacterial growth.
4. It may help ease symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Extensive research suggests that mastic gum may help ease the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, which is a common form of IBD.
In one small study, people who took mastic gum for four weeks experienced a significant decrease in the severity of their inflammatory symptoms.
Researchers also found decreased levels of IL-6 and C-reactive protein, which are markers of inflammation.
Clinical studies have emphasized a direct link between the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of Mastic Gum, providing plausible evidence that it may be an effective regulator of immunity in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis).
5. It may help lower cholesterol
A recent study found that mastic gum can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.
Participants who took mastic gum for eight weeks experienced lower levels of total cholesterol than those who took a placebo.
People who took mastic gum also experienced lower blood glucose levels. The study also found that mastic gum had a greater effect on people who were overweight or obese.
What else can help with indigestion?
Along with other metals such as Iron, Magnesium, and Copper, Zinc is part of a group called “trace minerals”, which have been proven to facilitate digestion.
Zinc contributes to the normal function of the digestive system by attaching to over 300 enzymes (structures made of proteins that break down other molecules); including essential enzymes that help break down food.
Scientific evidence indicates that Zinc may act as a clinical gastroprotective, anti-secretory agent, in that it produces a rapid and prolonged inhibition of gastric acid secretion.
The vitamin B complex group of nutrients is responsible for many physiological processes such as producing energy, body metabolism and blood cell production, thus making them well known as essential to cell metabolism.
While the group as a whole is important, each individual vitamin has unique benefits apart from their functions as a whole.
Vitamin B6 benefits, for instance, include lipid and amino acid metabolism. Vitamin B6 is known as a mild natural diuretic.
Reducing stress & anxiety
Anxiety, stress and depression can all trigger chemical imbalances that lead to changes in how your body works, including your digestive system. Firstly, you need to know if your indigestion is linked to stress or anxiety.
Try altering your diet to avoid the foods that trigger your indigestion. If your symptoms ease, stress or anxiety may not be to blame for your indigestion.
If you are suffering from depression, stress, or anxiety it is important that you talk to someone and seek help.
Are you suffering from H plyori?
Sometimes a germ called H. pylori can cause or make indigestion worse. It can infect the lining of the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the intestine).
Over half the world's population has it, being more common in developing countries. About 15 in 100 people are infected in the UK.
The reason why people become infected is unknown. It is sometimes present in children which means we may acquire it at a very young age. Once you are infected, unless treated, the infection usually stays for the rest of your life.
Your doctor may test for this and if necessary, give you a one-week course of treatment with three different tablets (two antibiotics and an acid-suppressing medicine) to get rid of it.
However, up to 3 in 10 people develop some side-effects from this treatment, including indigestion, feeling sick (nausea), diarrhoea and headaches.
Patients receiving this therapy have also encountered low treatment success (below 80%) in some cases.
Scientists attribute this failure to a phenomenon called “antibiotic resistance.” This makes the medicine less effective, or not effective at all, in killing the bacteria.
For this reason, much effort has been placed on finding alternative therapeutic approaches against H. pylori when the bacterial strains cannot be eliminated via traditional pharmaceutical methods.
Bonus: what other action can I take to prevent indigestion?
1 Chew your food properly
Adequate chewing allows an enzyme in the saliva called amylase to efficiently break down the food you eat.
As we age, we start to produce less saliva, and thus adequate chewing becomes even more important.
Ingesting unchewed food can lead to problems such as bloating and can also reduce the amount of nutrients you absorb.
2 Eat smaller portions
Consuming small meals more often will prevent your digestive system from becoming overloaded and will increase your metabolic rate. This can prevent digestive discomfort.
3 Eat slowly
Slowing down the rate at which you eat is another way to prevent overeating and the indigestion caused by it. This will give your body enough time to notify your brain that your stomach is full and to prevent you from eating too much.
4 Maintain an adequate fluid intake
Staying well hydrated can increase the efficiency of your digestive system and prevent digestive discomfort. You can maintain a good fluid intake by drinking plenty of water, herbal teas, and eating foods containing a high amount of water such as tomato, cucumber, watermelon and lettuce.
5 Eat gut-friendly foods
Diet can help maintain the levels of “good bacteria” in your gut, which are essential for optimal functioning of your digestive system. Consuming dietary prebiotics (i.e., oats, bananas, leeks), polyphenols (blueberries, cocoa, green tea) and fermented foods (kefir, kimchi) can maintain a healthy gut bacteria environment and a healthy digestion.
6 Keep a food diary
Keeping a food diary can help you identify which foods and drinks are most likely to trigger your indigestion. Once these triggers are identified, you can then cut them down or eliminate them from your diet to prevent indigestion.
Rich food, late nights, stress and poor diets can all impact your digestive system. We all experience indigestion differently, and its triggers differ from person to person.
However, if you suffer from indigestion often, it can become troublesome, especially when you are attending a special occasion or spending time with friends and family.
But good news!
There are plenty of effective remedies, both short-term and long-term, that can help relieve the symptoms of your indigestion.
If carried regularly, these solutions can truly improve your digestive health and prevent the distressing problems associated with indigestion.
It is time for you to take back control and gain the freedom to enjoy the foods you love.