Whether you’re experiencing severe symptoms that disrupt your daily life or you just have a lingering discomfort, indigestion can completely pull you out of the present moment. And though these conditions are common topics, many people suffer from heartburn and other forms of indigestion for years without finding a solution that works for them.
In a society where medications seem to be a cure-all, it’s easy to believe that taking the right pill could be a one-size-fits-all solution. However, this is not true as individual cases of indigestion are caused by a number of factors, including food choices, physical conditions, unrelated medications, and even certain postures and forms of exercise. This brief guide will look at some of the major causes of indigestion along with a variety of solutions so you can find a way past digestive problems and appreciate each moment.
Make Healthy Food Choices
Of course, your diet is one of the most impactful forces on healthy digestion and conditions like GERD, a common form of acid reflux. You may already have a solid understanding of which foods are more likely to give you an upset stomach, and it’s a good idea to trust your body’s reaction to certain foods, even if avoiding them is a difficult choice to make. Because we often try to identify our symptoms within common overlying conditions such as lactose intolerance, it can be easy to dismiss your particular intolerances.
When planning your meals, it may be helpful to keep a list of foods that cause a bad reaction. You can also track this by keeping an indigestion journal where you record entries about what and when you eat, the types of exercise you’re getting, the medicines you take, when the pain starts, and anything that makes it feel better.
Though these will not apply to everyone, here are some foods that commonly cause indigestion:
- Citrus fruits
- Onions and garlic
- Black pepper and excess salt
- Chocolate and other candy
- Coffee and caffeinated products
- Carbonated drinks
- Spicy foods
- Fatty, oily, or fried foods
Here are several foods that have been known to relieve symptoms:
- Vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus, green beans, cauliflower, leafy greens, cucumbers, and potatoes
- Non-citrus fruits, such as bananas, apples, pears, and melons
- Chicken, turkey, fish and seafood (not fried)
- Aloe vera
- Couscous and rice
- Egg whites
- Healthy fats found in avocados, walnuts, flaxseed, olive oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil
- Fermented foods like kimchi, kvass, sauerkraut, and kombucha can help to restore your body’s natural bacteria levels.
Any time you change your diet, be careful not to cut out essential nutrients. Even if you’re avoiding certain foods to relieve indigestion, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet.
Aside from the food choices, our eating schedule and other food-related habits also play a major role in causing indigestion. For example, overeating in a single sitting can increase your chances of experiencing heartburn. When your stomach is too full, the muscles that normally prevent stomach acid from rising up cannot close properly. Eating a meal too quickly or too close to sleeping can also cause an upset stomach. Some people find that eating smaller meals more often throughout the day helps to relieve their symptoms.
Find Ways to Relieve Stress
Making healthy food choices isn’t the only thing you can do to reduce your chances of indigestion. An upset stomach is one of the most common physical effects of stress, and if you’re already tracking your food choices and still experience regular digestive problems, dedicating more time to calming down may help relieve your physical discomfort. This could include guided meditations, yoga, listening to relaxing music, reading a book, or even talking to your family or friends about the things that cause the most stress in your life.
Consider Your Medications
Some medications can cause indigestion and abdominal pain, including drugs for asthma, antihistamines, sedatives, antidepressants, antibiotics, and iron supplements. This could include many more, depending on your individual reaction to a medication. Even common painkillers like aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen can cause your symptoms to worsen.
Though some medications are meant to reduce the amount of stomach acid you produce, these aren’t foolproof and don’t work the same way on everyone. Over a long period, these can even contribute to gastric bacterial overgrowth, which will cause more discomfort. If you think you’re experiencing digestive problems due to a medication prescribed to you by a medical professional, you should let them know. It’s possible that there is an available alternative that won’t make you feel sick.
Adjust Your Posture
You may be surprised to learn that the way you hold your body when you’re standing, sitting, and lying down can contribute to stomach problems. For example, when you are hunched forward in a chair, your internal organs have less space than they normally do, disrupting the digestive process. An upright seated posture is especially important during and after a meal in order to prevent slow-downs and blockages in your digestion.
If you have indigestion when sleeping, many people have found relief by elevating the head of their bed an additional 6 to 8 inches. Be sure to support your torso as well so your body can rest in a naturally aligned position.
Choose the Right Exercises
While regular exercise can help combat obesity and maintain healthy digestion, certain exercises can place added stress on your abdomen causing stomach pain. This is especially true with sit-ups and weightlifting. Running and cycling seem to have less of an effect, though the jarring motions of these exercises can still cause a flare up. Even certain yoga positions, like downward dog, can reverse the normal flow of your digestive system and should be avoided if you’re already experiencing indigestion. As a general rule, try to wait about two hours after eating before you work out in order to give your stomach time to digest and avoid excessive motion when your stomach is distended.
Smoking can limit your ability to produce saliva which slows your digestion. Smoking also weakens the muscle that prevents gas and acid from rising out of your stomach. Over time, smoking can even cause stomach ulcers, and because smoking decreases blood flow to the lining of your stomach, your body will have a harder time healing itself.
It’s worth noting, if you are experiencing severe digestive issues, especially over a long period of time you should reach out to a medical professional about other causes and possible solutions. Though no combination of diet, medication, or exercise has been proven to completely eliminate indigestion, being aware of common triggers and tracking how indigestion functions in your daily life will give you the best chance at spending less time struggling with digestive issues.