Indigestion: Causes & Treatments

Author: ANCP   Date Posted:26 May 2016 

Also known as dyspepsia and heartburn, the term indigestion is used to describe the constricting pain in the upper abdomen that sometimes occurs after eating. It is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as burping, flatulence, reflux, bloating and nausea.

Diet and lifestyle tips

Indigestion usually occurs after eating too much or too quickly. Alcohol, coffee and particularly rich, fatty or spicy foods may also trigger it, so pay attention to which foods cause you problems and avoid them where possible.

Eating when you’re feeling hurried or anxious can also lead to indigestion for some people, so take the time to sit and chew your food carefully, which will help you digest it more fully. If you’re prone to indigestion, avoid lying down shortly after eating. You might also like to try slightly elevating the head of your bed. This can help, by letting gravity help keep the food you’re digesting in your stomach, instead of moving up into the oesophagus.

Heartburn is more common in people who are overweight due to the additional pressure that stored fat places on the digestive organs. You may find that your problem improves after you lose weight.

Herbs to soothe irritation and inflammation

Slippery Elm

Has traditionally been used to ease inflamed and irritated tissues in the gastrointestinal tract and to relieve the symptoms of indigestion and reflux. It contains a high proportion of a type of fibre called mucilage, which absorbs large quantities of water and forms a soothing gel that lines the mucous membranes, helping to protect the underlying tissues from the acidic juices of the stomach.


Marshmallow Root

Also contains mucilage and in Western herbal medicine has traditionally been used in a similar way to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms and inflammation.

Peppermint and Fennel

The familiar scents of herbs like peppermint and fennel are due to the plants’ essential oil content, which are also believed to be responsible for much of their medicinal activity. Both herbs have traditionally been used to relieve indigestion, colic, flatulence and other digestive problems characterised by cramping and spasmodic pain.

Research suggests that peppermint essential oil has a relaxant effect on the muscles and sphincters of the digestive system, as well as on the gall bladder and small intestine.

Similarly, scientific studies indicate that fennel has an ability to decrease the strength of muscle contractions in the gastrointestinal tract. A combination of peppermint, fennel and other herbs has been shown to be more effective than placebo in relieving indigestion symptoms such as heartburn, pain, burping, nausea, flatulence and bloating.


Ginger has traditionally been used to stimulate digestion, reduce gastrointestinal discomfort and relieve colic and bloating. Research suggests that it may work by stimulating the secretion of digestive juices and bile and enhancing the motility (movement) of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as via other mechanisms.

In clinical studies, ginger has also been shown to relieve nausea and prevent vomiting from a variety of causes.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is often used to relieve digestion problems that are associated with discomfort in the upper abdominal region , as well as to support liver and gall bladder function, and protect the liver from the effects of toxins and free radical damage. Although it can be extremely unpleasant, most cases of indigestion are transient and harmless.

However, if symptoms are severe or persistent, they may indicate the presence of more serious disease (such as gastroesophageal reflux disease or peptic ulcer) and should be investigated by your healthcare professional. Any indigestion pain that is accompanied by vomiting or coughing up of blood warrants immediate medical attention.

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