This is the season of holiday meals and parties, when indigestion raises its ugly head. There are a variety of causes and patterns, so not everyone will fit the same remedies. If you tend to feel excessive heat in your stomach and upward rising energy, go with cooling herbs like peppermint, gentian and artichoke leaf. If your stomach feels cold, unable to mount the fire to digest, then use something warming like ginger.
Untreated GERD (reflux) can cause erosions of the esophagus, so are quite dangerous. However most treatments are for high acid GERD while the majority suffers from low acid GERD. Killer indigestion may be associated with gallstones and should be monitored to prevent gallbladder disease. Excessive food and poor combinations can exacerbate gallbladder disease.
Usually people over 35 have low acid and people under 35 have too much acid. The symptoms are identical but you can take this quiz to see where you lie. When people who have low acid take a calcium carbonate antacid like Tums, it will make digestion worst. Proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec or Nexium also inhibit acid and should not be taken by older people who are more likely to suffer from hypochlorhydria. Similarly H2 Blockers like Zantac, Tagamet and Pepsid reduce acid production by blocking signals that tell the stomach to make acid. The long term use of these just blocks feedback from your body that your diet is not suiting your needs.
Start your meals with something bitter: bite down on a slice of lime in your water, have a salad with radicchio, endive or dandelion greens, or use an apertif/digestif like Angostura Bitters or Fernet Branca (best with a slice of ginger so it won’t be too energetically cold for your system). Bitters tell your liver to produce bile, your stomach to produce digestive juices and starts moving food down through the digestive tract.
Use spices. Common culinary spices are carminative, that is they are aromatic in a way that enhances digestion. Fennel, anise seed, cardamon, cinnamon, ginger (especially!) and basil all help your body digest food. You can also make teas with the spices. This is especially good for people who feel like food is just sitting in their stomach, but some aromatic herbs could be a bit much for people with strong reflux.
- In a similar vein, sushi ginger isn’t just for sushi. The pickled ginger is easier to digest than raw ginger and is less heating. It is good for anyone who has recurrent nausea. You can find it by the jar at your neighborhood fish store, greengrocer, health food store in the macrobiotics section or Asian market. Just eat it with your meal.
- Don’t eat too much. Your body can better digest small amounts.
- Don’t eat too fast, and chew your food. This allows you to avoid overeating, which creates indigestion and mixes your food with enzymes from your saliva and digestive juices.
If you have a nervous stomach, chamomile with hops, catnip or valerian will help. Chamomile is also good for flatulent colic. Valerian and catnip are especially good for stress-based constipation.
- While adding vinegar to a low acid stomach or baking soda to a high acid stomach will reduce symptoms of GERD, it won’t change the underlying condition.
- Betaine hydrochloride, Ox Bile, may help break down fats especially if you have gall bladder disease. It can also retrain your stomach. To start, take 1 capsule fifteen minutes before your meal; the next meal take 2, 15 minutes before; the next meal take 3 as before. Keep doing this until you feel a peppery burning in your stomach,esophagus.Then back off one capsule.
- Take care of your gut bacteria. If you have recently had antibiotics, take fermented foods like kefir, miso, full-fat yogurt, blue cheese, coconut kefir, kimchee, sauerkraut, olives and unpasteurized pickles. These help you digest. Probiotics help as well.
- If your stomach is upset, rub a little essential oil of peppermint (cooling) or ginger (warming) over your stomach. The acupoint most useful for this is halfway between your sternum and belly button.
- Acupuncture can stop indigestion. In a recent study of pregnant women with heartburn, average heartburn intensity fell by at least a half in 15 out of 20 (75%) women receiving acupuncture compared with seven out of 16 (44%) women not receiving it.
- Bao he wan or Po Chai pills are remedies for food stagnation, when food seems to stagnate in your digestive tract. You usually take 24 tea pills a day of Bao he wan or a vial of Po Chai pills.
- A high percentage of foods that cause problems are difficult to digest like beans or high sulfur vegetables like broccoli or cabbage. Milk products are difficult for most people to digest, whether they are allergic or not because the pasteurization crosslinks milk proteins.
- High carbohydrate meals, especially those with sugar or flour are easily fermented by candida and can produce carbon dioxide. Avoid foods that can be fermented by yeast if you are prone to gas.
- Avoid foods that create bloating, foggy headedness, skin rashes or digestive disturbances if you take too much. This is a sign that you may have a food allergy with signs that were too vague to identify.
- To identify allergens, ask yourself what food would probably be allergenic for you and see what pops into your mind. It will probably be something you eat frequently or can’t imagine living without. Allergy tests are wildly inaccurate, with false positives and false negatives, so use total removal of allergenic foods like dairy, gluten, soy or corn for four to six weeks, then rechallenge and see if symptoms return.
The effect of Alcohol on Indigestion and Hangovers.
- Alcohol generally increases indigestion. Beer and sparkling wines are especially hard on the digestive tract.
- If you are going to be drinking, take some food with fat first: butter, olive oil, cheese, even whole milk. The fat helps coat your stomach and the food helps slow the alcohol absorption.
- Don’t drink too much. That should go without saying. But if you are worried about the effects of clear spirits or wine, then you are taking too much.
- If you do, consider the Chinese digestive remedy Bao He Wan. It comes in tea pills, which are taken at a daily dose of 24 (Check your bottle for any alternative dosing.)
- Raw egg yolks can help you recover faster. The jury is still out on adding hot sauce.
David Winston, Materia Medica. Unpublished draft.