Characterized by burning discomfort in the central core of the body and gassiness, acid indigestion is a common malady with even its most severe form, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) , affecting more than one-quarter of the US population. It is so often accompanied by hiatal hernia that in 2007 the National Institutes of Health referred to hiatal hernia as “a normal finding in otherwise healthy people over age 50.”
Lifestyle causes of gastric indigestion include whatever puts undue pressure or irritation on the upper stomach and lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Eating too much or too quickly, poor mastication, ingesting foods, fluids, or medications that cause gas build up or act as gastric irritants, wearing too-tight clothing, lying down too soon after eating, obesity, pregnancy, and smoking can all contribute to gastric indigestion.
Easy Steps to Improve Digestion
While it is important to see a licensed health care provider for appropriate diagnosis and treatment of any on-going indigestion, there are lifestyle-related changes people can make to minimize irritation to the upper stomach and LES. These include:
- Eating mindfully. Take time to chew well and savor foods.
- Pausing to give thanks, relax, and focus on eating before beginning to eat.
- Eating and drinking less. Keep the stomach less than three-quarters full to give it room to do the work of digestion.
- Avoiding irritating food combinations such as meats with breads.
- Avoiding putting pressure on the stomach.
- Elevating the head of the bed about three-to-five inches by putting blocks under the headboard legs.
“Let Food be Your Medicine”- Hippocrates
Eating a diet about half of which consists of whole grains and protein-rich foods in approximately equal proportions; about a third of which consists of vegetables, herbs, and spices; about a fifth of which consists of high quality fats like olive oil, sesame oil, and ghee; and the remainder of which consists of foods such as fruits and fruit juices has been shown to alleviate symptoms of gastric indigestion for many people. Herbs and spices such as caraway seeds, cardamon, dandelion root, goldenseal, slippery elm, and sweet basil have been reported to help relieve some cases of acid indigestion.
Because red meats can trigger inflammatory processes and cow’s milk contains lactose which many people cannot digest, cow products may be best avoided by people suffering from acid indigestion. Low quality fats and oils in combination with refined grains not only increase acid indigestion for many people, the combination is also implicated in obesity, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis. Other products highly implicated in acid indigestion which are usually best avoided include alcohol, caffeinated foods and beverages, carbonated beverages and tobacco.
Medical Treatment for Acid Indigestion
Persistent or severe symptoms of acid indigestion may require allopathic treatments beyond lifestyle change. Medications a physician may prescribe include antacids containing mineral salts to absorb gastric acid; histamine-2 (H2) receptor blockers to block stomach inflammation; foaming agents to prevent reflux; proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) to block stomach acid secretion; or prokinetics to strengthen the LES and cause the stomach to empty more quickly. While considered relatively safe, these medications can have side effects ranging from mildly inconvenient, such as nausea, to dangerous, such as heart arrhythmias.
Surgery may sometimes be required for treating severe gastric indigestion. The most common surgeries for treating gastric indigestion include repair of hiatal hernia, and a variety of surgeries performed to strengthen the LES. Because there are risks inherit in any surgical procedure, healthcare providers will usually recommend lifestyle changes and other treatments before resorting to surgery.
Lifestyle Changes for Acid Indigestion Relief
Acid indigestion encompasses a group of lifestyle related disorders which may respond well to lifestyle changes. An attitude of respect for one’s stomach and digestive needs can go a long way in managing symptoms of acid indigestion. Many people find digestion improves when they choose balanced food combinations, relax before eating, focus on eating, eat less to give the stomach room to do its work, avoid stomach pressure, and stay upright after eating.
Some herbs may be helpful in soothing the stomach. A licensed health care practitioner should be seen for any on-going symptoms of acid indigestion. A variety of medications are available which can help manage acid indigestion. In persistent or severe cases, surgery may be recommended by one’s health care provider.