Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our digestion gets a little out of whack. Common culprits, like travel, stress, and overindulging in a rich meal, can leave us feeling bloated, gassy, and uncomfortably full.
Indigestion is very common; most of the time, it’s mild and temporary. But chronic GI issues may indicate an underlying condition, such as peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, or irritable bowel syndrome. Recurring or regular symptoms warrant a doctor’s visit to determine the root cause and best course of treatment.
The connection between stress and indigestion
The first thing you can do to help your digestion is to work on your stress. “Stress is the most common underlying factor in chronic indigestion,” says Tricia Pingel, NMD, a naturopathic physician based in Arizona.
When we’re stressed, endocrine hormones stimulate the release of neurotransmitters to prepare the body for fight-flight-freeze mode. Digestion shuts down. In addition, Pingel says, “Mental stress has been known to decrease stomach acid, which can cause major discomfort and indigestion.”
Relaxation encourages the parasympathetic nervous system—which regulates digestion and other body functions—to return the body to its normal state, so stress management is the first defense.
But if you suffer from an occasional bout of indigestion, there are easy-access remedies for that. We’ve heard plenty about how probiotics and fiber can support gut health. We asked three experts for tips on what other things we can do to quell the discomfort of indigestion.
Naturopathic remedies for better digestion
Try yoga, meditation, or therapy to curb tension when it arises. In addition, these natural remedies can help:
Add a supplement: With every meal, take digestive enzymes containing HCl (hydrochloric acid), a naturally occurring compound that helps the body break down food. Probiotics can also help balance gut flora and support proper digestion. Look for one with more than one probiotic strain.
Sip vinegar: Apple cider vinegar can kickstart digestion, relieve feelings of fullness, and reduce gas pain by introducing more acid into your digestive system. Low stomach acid is one of the biggest causes of gas pain. Take 1–2 tablespoons of ACV diluted with a similar amount of water before a meal.
Try herbs: Slippery elm and marshmallow root are demulcents—substances that coat and soothe the stomach lining to ease symptoms of indigestion, including heartburn. Mint relieves gas and bloating. Brew a tea with these herbs and drink it during or after meals.
Drink aloe: Aloe juice can tamp down inflammation by acting as an antioxidant. Look for products that contain only aloe gel. The yellowish aloe latex or whole-leaf extract contains chemicals that may cause diarrhea or stomach cramps, and have been associated with cancer.
How yoga can help ease indigestion
Hitting the mat when we’re experiencing indigestion may not sound particularly appealing, but yoga can speed relief.
“While there’s no magic cure for resolving feelings of indigestion once they start—and the causes of indigestion can be complex—certain yoga poses can be helpful.” says Kerry Maiorca, E-RYT 500, RPYT, and chair of the Yoga Alliance board. At the very least, yoga won’t exacerbate the condition and could potentially soothe the discomfort when you’re feeling bloated or gassy.
A regular asana practice can also help keep you regular because it incorporates both movement and breathing. Yoga also nurtures a mind–body connection that may help you to make more mindful choices about how, when, and what you eat. Start with gentle restorative poses:
- Side-lying Savasana (Corpse Pose): For indigestion or excessive fullness, lie on your left side. Use a pillow under your head to keep the neck and spine aligned. Place a bolster or pillow between your legs. Breathe through your nose, gradually slowing your breath and feeling your lower ribs and upper abdomen expand.
- Supported reclining pose or Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose): These poses beat bloat by creating space and openness in the abdomen. Lie back using blocks, folded blankets, or pillows to prop and support your body. Breathe gently in and out through your nose to soothe the nervous system.
“Take soft, gentle breaths in and out through the nose to soothe the nervous system and invoke a sense of calm,” Maiorca says.
Finally, practice kshama, forgiveness. Self-compassion helps you avoid adding self-judgment and frustration to the discomfort you’re experiencing.
Shift your eating habits to improve digestion
When it comes to digestion, how you eat matters as much as what you eat, says Amy Kimberlain, RDN, LDN, CDCES, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Your goal: Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed.
Slow down: Eating too quickly—usually because we’re rushed or ravenous—is a common cause of indigestion. Chewing your food thoroughly gives your body time to digest it.
Burst the bubbles: The tiny air bubbles in seltzer, sparkling water, and other fizzy drinks can end up in your abdomen, leaving you feeling gassy and full. Drink fresh juice and still water instead.
Know your triggers: The human digestive system is super-individualized: One person can’t stomach garlic; another can’t digest milk. But some foods tend to be harder for almost everyone to digest: cow’s milk products, onions, garlic, wheat (gluten), soy, caffeine, alcohol, corn, and eggs. Note how you feel after eating these foods; avoiding them may eliminate discomfort.