Indigestion, also known as Dyspepsia, is a pain or discomfort felt in the upper abdomen often after the consumption of food and drinks.
It is a common problem that affects most individuals but it’s usually mild and doesn’t cause any serious complications. In fact, in the United Kingdom, indigestion affects approximately four in every ten people every year.
This article will answer some of the frequently asked questions about indigestion, what are the causes and what natural remedies can be of help.
What are the symptoms of indigestion?
Symptoms of mild indigestion tend to occur soon after food consumption and include:
a burning feeling, often felt in the centre of the chest which may also rise into the neck or back
acid reflux which is a bitter taste in the mouth caused by acid regurgitation - the mixture of undigested foods and gastric juices rising back up the oesophagus and into the mouth
The symptoms may last for up to two hours, and in some cases for a few days, depending on what causes the indigestion.
Usually, if the symptoms persist for more than two weeks or you also notice a loss of weight, have trouble swallowing and have shortness of breath, seeking medical attention from your General Practitioner is recommended.
Where can indigestion pain be felt?
Digestion occurs in the small intestine - a tube which extends from the stomach to the large intestine.
Indigestion pain is most commonly felt in the upper abdomen, the area between the bottom of the breastbone and the bellybutton.
However, it can also move up beyond the breastbone and tends to worsen when you lie down or bend over as this causes the stomach acid to reflux into your oesophagus, hence the bitter taste in your mouth.
As the symptoms can vary from one person to another, the pain caused by indigestion will also be different for everyone, some may simply experience discomfort in the upper abdomen whereas others may also experience pain in their lower back, along with the pain rising to their neck and throat.
Some other forms of discomfort may also include constant burping, a gurgling stomach and gas.
Why does indigestion occur?
Indigestion is usually caused by the over consumption of spicy and ‘fatty’ foods especially if eaten too fast.
Also, the overconsumption of certain drinks especially alcohol, drinks containing caffeine and fizzy drinks can trigger the symptoms of indigestion.
Our stomachs contain hydrochloric acid which is responsible for breaking down food and protecting the stomach from pathogens.
However, when you consume high fat foods, or ingredients that are difficult to digest on a regular basis, your stomach will have to produce a higher volume of acid to break it down.
The excess of this acid in the stomach can irritates its lining and cause inflammation.
If the irritation is left to build up over time it can scar the oesophagus.
Although it is not as common anymore, gastric ulcers are also a cause of indigestion.
This particularly affects heavy smoker whose stomach lining and oesophageal sphincter are weakened overtime, therefore the hydrochloric acid can flow back into the oesophagus more easily leaving the bitter feeling in the mouth.
Which foods cause indigestion?
As previously mentioned, greasy and fatty foods, such as French fries (15g of fat per 100g), cheese pizza (9g of fat per 100g), vanilla ice-cream (11g of fat per 100g), are commonly known to be responsible for indigestion.
However, there is a number of ingredients that we normally include in our daily eating as good food that might still upset our digestive system if not consumed in moderation.
I’m referring to dairy products, ie: butter, whole milk cheese; high fat salad dressings, hot sauces, and dips.
Certain spices such as black pepper, chilli, curry and garlic can also be difficult to digest for some people, as well as fruits and vegetables with a high ph level such as tomatoes, peppers, and citrus fruits.
Consuming large amounts of fizzy drinks, coffee, chocolate and alcohol on a regular basis can also cause the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) to relax.
This valve is responsible for preventing the food we ingest from travelling back up once it reaches the stomach.
If this valve relaxes when it shouldn’t, the food would rise back up the oesophagus, causing what we know as acid reflux.
Which foods help indigestion?
Indigestion can usually be treated at home without the need to see a GP.
The most common way to prevent indigestion is to consume your food slowly and in small portions.
Reducing or even avoiding food and drinks that commonly trigger indigestion is also recommended by experts.
If symptoms do appear after eating, there are several natural remedies that can prove useful when helping minimise the pain and discomfort felt during indigestion.
Here are a few suggestions:
Water – sipping warm water slowly can help dilute the acid in the stomach after a meal reducing the
chances of indigestion symptoms.
Studies have proven that by keeping the sipped water in the mouth for few seconds before passing it through, can help the alkaline saliva reach the stomach more easily and reduce its level of acidity.
Chamomile tea - Its soothing properties are perfect in helping induce sleep and calming both anxiety and an upset stomach.
Fennel – an herb with antispasmodic properties that helps reduce cramps in the stomach, bloating and other symptoms when consumed after a meal.
Ginger – it is commonly known for its numerous medicinal properties and as one of the best natural remedies for indigestion.
Researchers have shown that a cup of ginger tea after a meal can reduce stomach acid, eliminate built-up gas in your intestines and ease nausea.
A simple way to introduce ginger into your routine include drinking a ginger infusion, nibble on ginger flakes or adding it to your smoothies, your soups and baked goods.
Here is a simple recipe to make your own ginger tea at home.
For more information on our Ginger Flakes direct from the Ivory Coast, or any of our other African Superfoods, feel free to get in touch and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
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