Try These Natural Options For Post-Meal Indigestion
Written by Dr. Thalia Charney, MA, ND (inactive) and NOW Foods Nutrition & Health Education Manager
One of the most common digestive problems plaguing us today is dyspepsia, aka indigestion, with a range of symptoms occurring shortly after a meal such as fullness, acid reflux or heartburn, nausea, belching, and even pain. Any issues experienced at this time usually involve digestion at the stomach level.
How Digestion Works
Normal digestion involves the coordinated effort of many crucial processes, including the production of stomach acid and enzymes, the timely release of hormones, and the involvement of our nervous system. When we swallow food, it travels down our esophagus and then passes through an opening in our diaphragm, and into the stomach. If all is working well, digestion starts to take place. After an hour or two, the partially digested food contents then make their way into the upper gastrointestinal tract for further processing by the pancreatic juices.
What Causes Indigestion?
For many people the digestive process doesn’t occur with ease or precision. There are many likely culprits: eating excessive portion sizes and too late at night, poor food choices, alcohol, smoking, chronic stress, overuse of painkillers like Advil and antibiotics. Existing conditions such as obesity, hiatal hernia (a protrusion of the stomach through the diaphragm) and pregnancy can also have a significant, negative impact on digestion.
What Else is Wrong?
These unpleasant symptoms, which we call indigestion, are often accompanied by a diagnosis of sorts:
- Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) is very common, particularly amongst the elderly. It is characterized by severe and/or frequently occurring heartburn.
- Inflammation in the stomach may be gastritis or even an ulcer. This can result in unpleasant pain and even life-threatening bleeding.
- Stubborn bacteria called H. Pylori could even be the culprit. It’s associated with an increased risk of cancer, and is known to be difficult to eradicate, even with strong antibiotics.
The Band-Aid Approach
The medical model to address indigestion usually employs one of three approaches:
- You may be asked to avoid common heartburn triggers such as citrus, caffeine, alcohol, spices, chocolate and fried foods.
- If you have H. Pylori, you will often be placed on strong broad-spectrum antibiotics. Unfortunately, they are often ineffective and can be terribly harmful to the digestive tract where they indiscriminately kill good bacteria.
- For heartburn or GERD, you might be subjected to a range of acid-blocking “Band-Aids,” from TUMS (which neutralize acids) to over-the-counter Histamine 2 Blockers like Zantac to strong drugs called Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) like Nexium and Prevacid.
Few people realize that prescription PPIs are only supposed to be taken for only a short period of time, just long enough to heal an ulcer or gastritis. By staying on them and blocking stomach acid indefinitely, users could be compromising the digestion of vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, selenium and proteins, as well as lowering their defences against harmful pathogens and diseases. In fact, long-term use of PPIs is associated with increased risks for osteoporosis, dementia, hip fractures, heart attacks, pneumonia, food poisoning and even stomach cancer.
A Natural Approach
Any approach to treating dyspepsia should include shifts in lifestyle habits and practices, including alternatives to the repeated use of antibiotics or painkillers. But beyond that, there are some wonderful and natural choices that can help with dyspepsia by healing the stomach lining, assisting with normal digestion, managing acid reflux, and even possibly eradicating stubborn problems like H. Pylori.
Addressing Low Stomach Acidity
Despite what most people using anti-acids believe, there is little evidence to suggest that acid reflux is caused by excess acid. In fact, acid production drops as we age, and studies show that people with low stomach acid are more likely to suffer from heartburn, especially at night.
Clinically, naturopathic doctors often use supplements like NOW Betaine HCl (an acid form of betaine) to test for and treat low-stomach acid. While taking acid is not advised for those with an existing ulcer or gastritis, many people with heartburn find it very helpful. If you take it and feel better, this may indicate you have low stomach acid.
Heal and Sooth
Nature has provided us with some exceptional remedies!
- Mastic gum from the mastic tree is not only helpful to alleviate heartburn, but is also very healing to the stomach lining. Moreover, a pilot study using mastic gum successfully eradicated H. Pylori in 5/13 participants in just 14 days.
- Slippery Elm, as its name implies, is mucilaginous and healing to the digestive tract. As a soother, fibre and prebiotic (feeds good bacteria), it has a long history of use for a variety of digestive issues.
- PepZin GI (Zinc-L-Carnosine) is a special type of zinc shown in a primary pilot study to heal stomach injury in humans in just 5 days.
These three ingredients can all be found in one product called NOW Ulcetrol.
Other supports for Optimal Digestive Function
Digestive enzymes can also be very helpful when dealing with symptoms of insufficient digestion such as fullness, bloating or gas. NOW Super Enzymes not only contain a full range of enzymes to digest carbohydrates, fats and proteins, but also contain Betaine HCl and Pepsin, two specific agents for digestion in the stomach, as well as bile to support suboptimal liver or gallbladder functioning. Probiotics like NOW Priobiotic-10 are another essential tool for digestive health, especially for repopulating beneficial gut flora after taking antibiotics.
Dr. Thalia Charney is a Naturopathic Doctor, public speaker and the author of the recently published book, The Confident Food Shopper: The Guide to Food Labels and Fables. As the Nutrition and Health Education Manager at Puresource (NOW Health Group Canada), she illustrates how natural health products can support optimal health and wellness.
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