Have you ever experienced an upset stomach after eating? Maybe it was accompanied by excessive gas and bloating? There’s actually a more scientific term for this common health problem. I’m talking about dyspepsia. What is dyspepsia? Well, aside from being a fancier word for upset stomach or indigestion, dyspepsia is defined as “any or all of the unpleasant symptoms that are associated with the malfunctioning of the digestive system.” (1) Medically speaking, the correct indigestion definition and dyspepsia definition are identical. These terms describe the same set of symptoms, including things like bloating and stomach or upper abdominal pain.
Dyspepsia is said to affect over a quarter of the population — up to 30 percent to be exact! (2) So if you’re feeling dyspeptic (irritable due to indigestion), you definitely want to read this article in its entirety to see how you can prevent dyspepsia and also to see what causes it in the first place. But even if you only experience an upset stomach from time to time, you’ll still want to find out how you can avoid unwanted symptoms in the future. Good news — there are some highly effective natural remedies for indigestion that are either free or very inexpensive and they’re all very easy to do.
What Is Dyspepsia?
First off, in order to properly define dyspepsia, it’s important to know that it’s not a disease. Rather, dyspepsia is a set of commonly experienced symptoms like burping, bloating and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia, also called upset stomach, is a general term used to describe physical discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen most commonly felt during or right after eating. Some people experience dyspepsia daily or even at every single meal, while others only experience it on occasion. Many people experience heartburn along with dyspepsia, but these are two separate issues. (3)
Under normal conditions, there is a healthy peristalsis that takes place when we consume food. Peristalsis is the involuntary contraction and relaxation of smooth muscles that propels food through the esophagus and intestines. When peristalsis doesn’t take place in an optimal fashion, this slows down the processing of food in the digestive tract and makes dyspepsia more likely.
Functional dyspepsia is a chronic improper functioning of the upper digestive tract with no observable abnormalities to explain chronic symptoms. Some possible causes of functional dyspepsia include food allergies, inflammation of the stomach or duodenum, excessive acid secretion, medication side effects, psychological factors, or an infection with Helicobacter pylori. (4)
Some research has shown that there may be a genetic predisposition to functional dyspepsia. In addition, about 40 percent of people with functional dyspepsia have displayed an “impaired accommodation” or an inability for their stomachs to relax as they should in response to consuming food. Abnormal stomach emptying and sub optimal contractions of the stomach are also believed to play a role in functional dyspepsia. (5)
Causes & Risk Factors
You may be familiar with what indigestion is, but do you know specifically what causes indigestion? Most of the time the roots of dyspepsia can be traced back to food, drink, poor eating habits and lifestyle choices. Other times, an infection (like H. pylori) or another digestive medical condition may be the cause.
Indigestion can be brought on by:
- Eating too fast
- Eating too much in one sitting
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Eating spicy, fatty or greasy foods
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Consuming high fiber foods
Other possible causes of dyspepsia include medical conditions such as: (6)
- Hiatal Hernia
- Hiatal hernia
- Pregnancy (especially late term)
- Stomach infections like Helicobacter pylori
- Food poisoning
- Gastroparesis (a condition where the stomach doesn’t empty properly, common in diabetics)
- Food allergies or sensitivities
- Thyroid disease
- Thyroid disease
- Stomach cancer (rarely)
- Heart disease, angina, heart attack (typically accompanied by other symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and jaw pain)
Indigestion can also commonly be caused by medications like NSAIDs, antibiotics, steroids and birth control pills. Other drug triggers include thyroid, cholesterol, blood pressure and pain medications. (7)
Signs & Symptoms
I hope you’re not familiar with indigestion, but if you are, then you won’t be surprised by the symptoms I’m about to list. On the other hand, some of you may be thinking “what does indigestion feel like?” Most often, sufferers describe their indigestion as an uncomfortable fullness in their stomach accompanied by pain in the upper abdomen or chest. For most people, indigestion symptoms will come on during or right after eating.
Classic symptoms of indigestion (dyspepsia) include: (8)
- Abdominal pain
- Acidic taste in the mouth
- Bloating/a full feeling in the stomach region
- Belching and gas
- Burning sensation in the stomach or upper abdomen
- Diarrhea, but not always
- “Growling” stomach
A diagnosis of dyspepsia is typically based on a patient’s medical history, a physical examination and sometimes an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. Other tests like H. pylori testing, blood and/or stool tests, and imaging tests may also be conducted.
The most common conventional treatment of dyspepsia is some type of over-the-counter or prescription acid-blocking medication. Some common medications recommended include ranitidine and omeprazole, which both come with many serious possible side effects. If you have an infection in your stomach, such as H. pylori, then your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. If you continue to have pain after eight weeks of medication or your pain goes away and then returns, your doctor may order an upper endoscopy. (9, 10)
8 Natural Remedies for Dyspepsia
When it comes to dyspepsia relief, ginger has been used for thousands of years as an effective digestive aid and natural remedy for nausea. Recently, Taiwanese researchers discovered that three capsules (1.2 grams total) of ginger can actually help the stomach release its contents into the small intestines in people with functional dyspepsia — a condition in which 40 percent of patients suffer from abnormally delayed gastric emptying. (11)
This is a major reason why ginger helps people who are bloated, constipated and have other gastrointestinal disorders. It relaxes the smooth muscle in your gut lining and helps food move along throughout the system. Eating whole fresh ginger, drinking fresh ginger juice and inhaling diffused ginger essential oil are all highly effective natural ways to improve stomach disorders like indigestion.
2. Artichoke Extract
Along with ginger, a study in 2015 showed that artichoke extract can also improve indigestion symptoms. Compared to the placebo takers, subjects who took ginger and artichoke extract for four weeks had decreased symptoms of nausea, fullness, pain as well as bloating. The study concludes that not only is artichoke extract (and ginger) supplementation safe, it is highly effective at treating functional dyspepsia. (12)
This natural remedy may sound too simple, but it’s truly huge for dyspepsia sufferers because there is a direct correlation between stress and indigestion. Indigestion symptoms are known to increase when you’re stressed and you guessed it — decrease when you’re in a relaxed state. (13) Ideal relaxation methods can vary by individual, but some tried-and-true stress relievers include exercise, yoga, massage, journaling and spending more time in nature. Relaxing the body and mind intentionally and on a regular basis is an excellent way to ease unwanted stomach issues.
4. Cut Out Common Food Triggers
Some of the worst things to consume if you commonly experience dyspepsia include spicy, greasy, fatty and processed foods. None of these foods are easy on the digestive system and can easily trigger indigestion symptoms. Coffee (and other caffeine sources) is another well-known acidic beverage that contributes to dyspepsia. If you’re having a rough time with indigestion symptoms, it can also help to cut out the following foods or food groups: lactose-heavy items (like cow’s milk), acidic foods (like tomato sauce) and dangerous artificial sweeteners. (14)
5. Practice Proper Eating & After-Eating Habits
There are a lot of cost-free, natural ways to discourage indigestion from wreaking havoc on your body. The first three recommendations cut down on the air you swallow while you eat, which helps to make indigestion symptoms (like burping) a lot less likely.
Here are some natural ways to avoid dyspepsia that conventional medicine also promotes: (15)
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- Don’t talk while you are chewing.
- Eat slowly and chew your food well.
- Never lie down directly after eating.
- Avoid eating late at night.
- Wait a minimum of three hours after you eat dinner before going to sleep.
- Stay away from any clothing that fits your body too tightly because this can squeeze your stomach, which in turn can cause its contents to enter the esophagus (the complete opposite of the right direction!).
6. Raise Your Bed
Another common and easy DIY change that seems to help many people is raising just the head of the bed at least six inches. You can use wooden blocks or even books to accomplish this additional height. By raising the head of your bed, you can help to encourage digestive juices to flow the right way (into the intestines) rather than the wrong way (into the esophagus).
7. Avoid NSAIDs, Antibiotics and Other Medications
NSAIDs can cause digestive issues like dyspepsia. NSAIDs are a type of anti-inflammatory drug that are available over the counter and are very commonly taken for pain. If NSAID isn’t ringing a bell, you might be more familiar with generic names like ibuprofen. According to gastroenterologist Byron Cryer, MD, a spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association, NSAIDs cause more than half of all bleeding ulcers. (16) If NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen can cause bleeding ulcers, think about how easily they can throw off your digestive system and cause dyspepsia.
You’ll also want to avoid another common culprit as much as possible — antibiotics, which not only contribute to leaky gut syndrome and antibiotic resistance. They are also known to cause indigestion. (17) Other over-the-counter and prescription drugs that are known to cause indigestion include aspirin, birth control, steroid medications, thyroid medications, pain medications, cholesterol medications and blood pressure medications.
8. Cut Out Bad Habits
Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are easily two of the worst habits if you are struggling with indigestion symptoms. (18) Both smoking and consuming alcohol are known to be great at something you really don’t want — irritating your stomach lining. An irritated stomach lining makes indigestion symptoms an increased likely reality. You shouldn’t smoke at all. Only drink moderately or completely cut it out if your symptoms persist. If you really want a drink, try a healthy mocktail instead.
It’s important to know that a heart attack can cause some symptoms similar to indigestion. If you think you’re experiencing indigestion along with breathing trouble, heavy sweating, and/or pain that moves to the jaw, neck, or arm, seek urgent medical care.
It is possible for indigestion to be symbolic of other serious health issues. If you have any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor right away: (19)
- Indigestion symptoms that persist for more than a few days
- Loss of appetite
- Unintentional or unexplained weight loss
- Trouble swallowing
- Black, tarry stools or visible blood in stools
- Sudden, severe abdominal pain
- Discomfort not related to eating or drinking
- Yellow coloring of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
Dyspepsia or indigestion is an extremely common health problem people of all ages experience. For some people, it can even become a chronic nagging issue in their lives. The good news is that there are many natural ways to improve dyspepsia symptoms. Plus, none of the indigestion remedies recommended here are hard to do or expensive.
Consistency is also key — once you realize what your triggers are, it’s important to avoid them entirely or reduce them as much as possible. For example, you may find that reducing your intake of coffee significantly helps to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Listen to your body when it comes to triggers and don’t forget that stress is a huge factor in the development and continuation of indigestion symptoms. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself in every way because a happy, relaxed mind and body is much less likely to experience dyspepsia.