Eliminate Indigestion -- Naturally

Summary
You don't have to live with indigestion. You can eliminate it with small diet changes, without antibiotics.

Eric Armstrong
TreeLight.com/Health

Understanding Indigestion

Chronic indigestion is painful. It can erode the lining of the stomach and esophagus, make you dizzy, promote anxiety, and even lead to panic attacks, as described in Dealing With Anxiety Attacks. So eliminating indigestion has a major impact on "quality of life". A severe attack of indigestion can also mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. The good news is that it can scare a person into straightening up their life. The bad news is that it leads to an avoidable, inconvenient trip to the hospital, expensive tests to rule out heart problems, and it's one hell of a scary thing.

The intestinal gas that characterizes indigestion causes the bloated sensation. It can also make you dizzy. The gas comes from food that isn't completely digested--so the common approach of restricting stomach acids with medications is counterproductive, because they impede digestion, which makes gas even more likely as the food ferments in your stomach.

In more severe cases, stomach acid causes pain when it attacks a weakened stomach lining or it moves into the esophagus ("acid reflux"). But while reducing stomach acid in these cases reduces your symptoms, it does nothing whatever to address the real cause of the problem--the eroded stomach lining, eroded esophageal valve, or the deteriorated intestinal environment that causes them.

Unfortunately, doctors are still recommending drugs to control stomach acids--and the airwaves are filled with advertisements and prescription medications to do just that. The problem with such medications is that they don't address the real cause of the problem. They only address the symptoms. Meanwhile, they leave the real problem untouched and in many cases make it worse. Symptom relief is desirable, of course. But it should only be needed for a short while, until the real problem is addressed.

Indigestion is the kind of disease that drug companies love. It's not life-threatening, at least not for a very long time. But it is incredibly uncomfortable, so people are willing to pay for a solution -- and pay, and pay, and keep on paying for those little pills and tablets that bring relief. So don't count on seeing advertisements anytime soon that tell you how to eliminate the problem forever. Doctors, meanwhile, go along with the charade. Curiously, they're satisfied as long as the drug relieves the symptoms. They seem to be all but totally uninterested in identifying the deeper causes and addressing them.

Soapbox:
In some ways, capitalism has taken a major turn for the worse. There is no incentive whatsoever for major drug companies to invest in research that would lead to a long-term cure for indigestion--especially when the cure involves simple diet changes. It's like killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Like acne, rosacea, and bad-breath, these "million dollar diseases" create a clientele that deliver trillions of dollars into corporate coffers every year. So you're not going to get an explanation of simple dietary remedies from them anytime soon. They're too busy finding ways to give you temporary relief.

The Real Cause of Indigestion

It's pretty well known that indigestion is caused by harmful bacteria in the stomach (Heliobacter Pylori, or H. Pylori). When things are severe, a doctor will attempt to "cure" the problem with a course of antibiotics, but there are several downsides to that approach:

  1. You have to go to a doctor and get a prescription.
  2. Antibiotics kill bacteria indiscriminately--the good along with the bad.
  3. The constant use of antibiotics and antiseptic soaps is creating new breeds of germs that are immune to them, so prescriptions are becoming less and less effective.
  4. If you don't make diet changes, the conditions that led to the problem in the first place will eventually cause it to resurface.

I'm pleased to say, though, that there is a simply dietary remedy for indigestion. Like most dietary remedies, there are several facets to the problem, so there are several avenues of attack. When combined, they lead not only to a cessation of symptoms, but they rectify the real problem. We'll talk about that next.

The Anti-Indigestion Protocol

In the absence of major complications, a few simple lifestyle changes will put an end to indigestion in the average individual.

First, for symptom relief:

Second, to heal the damage to the stomach wall, supplement with:

Third, to address the cause of the problem:

Finally, make the long-term adjustments necessary to eliminate allergic reactions

Note:
I had severe indigestion for a couple of years. The kind of pain I experienced suggests that I had developed an ulcer, as well. It developed during a period of a year and a half when I was writing a book and working a full-time job at the same time. To get it all done, I was drinking 10 to 12 cups of coffee a day. Little did I know how much pain I would eventually be in. But by following a dietary protocol like the one suggested above, I completely eliminated the problem in a couple of months.

Symptom Relief

The first step in dealing with indigestion is to address the immediate symptoms.

Burp

Burping is a fast way to relieve the discomfort induced by gas pressure. With a little practice, you can become quite good at swallowing a little air and opening the esophagus to let it out, along with trapped stomach gases. (I became quite good at it, in fact.) It's not socially acceptable, though, so you have to excuse yourself and go to the bathroom when you're eating out. But it's a handy first aid remedy to have around.

Don't Lie Down after Eating

When you lie down after eating, gravity is no longer helping you keep the stomach acids at the bottom of the stomach. That makes it easier for them to rise up into the esophagus, where they cause the burning sensation that is so familiar to those who suffer from indigestion. The simple remedy for that problem is stand or sit for a couple of hours after eating.

Propping yourself up with pillows when you go to bed is also a good idea, if indigestion is a chronic problem. Over time, the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach weakens, and staying upright helps to keep the acids where they belong--in the stomach because, unlike the stomach, the esophagus has no way to protect itself from the acid--which is why

Use Natural, Healing Remedies like PRO-DGL and ACID-EASE

There are natural products that heal the stomach lining, protect it, and provide the enzymes you need to digest your food. Unlike antacids, those are remedies that actually do some good.

DGL
DGL stands for De-Glycerized Licorice. Licorice has always been known as a fantastic assist for indigestion. It not only absorbs the gas, but it heals the stomach lining in the process. So it is an incredibly good natural cure. The one drawback to licorice was always that it caused diarrhea. But the de-glycerized form solves that problem.
 
The brand of DGL I like best is PRO-DGL. It's a combination of propolis and DGL. Propolis is supposed to be a beneficial food, although I'm not sure what it does, if anything, to address indigestion directly. What I know for sure is that regular DGL ages very quickly. Chewable DGL tablets are normally gray, but they turn brown after a month or two. I used to prevent that problem by storing them in the refrigerator--but then they became rather chalky, and they did not seem to be as effective, in any case. PRO-DGL seems to keep just fine at room temperature, though. And it doesn't seem to lose effectiveness as rapidly. (After five or six months, it's still quite effective.) I don't know whether the longer shelf life comes from the propolis or from some other aspect of the packaging but, whatever it is, it works. So I keep PRO-DGL on hand in my "dietary medicine cabinet".
 
ACID-EASE
DGL is my first avenue of attack, because it heals the stomach lining. When an attack of indigestion is especially acute, however, and DGL doesn't seem to be working, I reach for something stronger. That something is a product called ACID-EASE. It's a combination of ingredients like slippery elm and marshmallow that coat the stomach wall and protect it from harm, coupled with digestive enzymes like amylase (digests proteins) and lipase (digests fats).
 
Unlike antacids that soak up stomach acid or prevent it from being produced, ACID-EASE works by helping your body complete the digestive process. It supplies the enzymes that are normally present in natural foods, but which are destroyed by food processing.

Healing the Damage

Symtom-relieving products like PRO-DGL begin the healing process. Continue healing the mucosal wall of the stomach with these additional nutrients:

MSM
MethylSufonyl Methane, or MSM, has been said to "paint the intestines". What MSM does for the intestines, it may do for the stomach lining, as well. It's volatile, so it doesn't survive heating, processing, or storage. For that reason, we generally don't get very much in our processed-food diet, which makes supplementation necessary. For more information, see What is MSM?
 
Zinc Carnosine
The March 2005 edition of Alternative Medicine has a terrific article on ulcers. It mentions a remedy from Japan that can heal the stomach lining in about 8 weeks. It coats the walls of the stomach and upper intestine, and inhibits the growth of the bad bacteria, as well. Totally without side effects, you take one 37.5 mg tablet in the morning, and one before bed. The article mentions three brands by name: PepZin-GI, Ulcetrol, and Nature's Lining.

Addressing the Cause of the Problem

Managing the symptoms of indigestion makes you feel more comfortable. That's good. But in the long term, it's more important to address the cause of the problem. This section tells you how.

Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup like the Poison it is

Oddly enough, high fructose corn syrup is a known cause of digestive problems. Yet manufacturers continue to use it, because its cheap. So on the one hand, food manufacturers are feeding you things that cause indigestion. On the other hand, drug manufacturers are selling you products to control stomach acid.

All that money buys a lot of advertising, so hear all about the wonderful soft drinks that happen to contain high fructose corn syrup, and you hear all about the wonderful drugs that are supposed to make you feel better. What you don't hear is that if you simply avoid high fructose corn syrup, your indigestion goes away. No one is making enough money to run an advertisement 17 times a day, every day, to remind you. So people suffer while corporations prosper.

The problem with high fructose corn syrup is the large amounts of fructose it contains. Fructose is the sugar found in fruit, so it sounds like it's good for you. But high fructose corn syrup has much larger quantities of fructose than you could ever find in fruit--without the fiber that slows digestion and feeds the beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract.

Instead, fructose feeds the bacteria that cause gastric distress. In fruit, the fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria, so they out-compete the harmful bacteria. With high fructose corn syrup, only the harmful bacteria get fed. Indigestion is the inevitable result.

Take Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is unique among oils in that it kills the bacteria that cause indigestion. Add 3 tablespoons a day to your diet (cook with it, or add it to your herbal coffee or herbal tea) and indigestion will all but disappear in a few weeks. For more information on that subject, see Coconut Oil: Miracle Medicine and Diet Pill.

Eat Natural Fiber Foods

Fruits and vegetables contain fiber that feed the healthy bacteria, so they begin to outnumber the unhealthy bacteria that cause indigestion. Natural foods also contain the enzymes they need to be fully digested. (The enzymes are destroyed by heat, storage, and processing.)

Of course, the reason you suffer from indigestion in the first place is that your digestion system is relatively weak. It stems from a diet that contains a lot of processed, low-fiber foods. Since the foods don't contain the enzymes needed for digestion, your body has to work harder than it otherwise would to digest them. From time to time, it seems, it just can't work hard enough--like a weight lifter at its limit, add one more pound and the weight becomes impossible to lift. At the same time, the diet feeds the bad bacteria and starves the good, so indigestion is the inevitable consequence.

A weak digestive system can make high-fiber foods like vegetables hard to digest, at first. So cook them or let them naturally ferment in foods like kimchi. (See What Makes Kimchi So Healthy?.) Lettuce and tomatoes (which are really a fruit) are an exception.

Fruits can be acidic, so combine with nuts or a nut mixture to make a satisfying meal that doesn't cause gastric distress--a slice of apple, half a handful of nuts, another slice of apple, more nuts. Like that.

Substitute tea for coffee

Coffee increases cortisol--the stress hormone that makes you burn muscle and conserve fat. At least one study has shown that coffee drinkers have more heart attacks than tea drinkers, even when they're getting the same amount of caffeine. While no one has demonstrated health problems from one cup of coffee a day, your intake should not be more than that. And if you suffer from indigestion, it's probably a good idea to switch to tea, instead.

Eat Garlic Regularly

I learned about the healing power of garlic from my martial arts Grandmaster, Dr. Tae Yun Kim. When I investigated, I found that garlic, like coconut oil, is an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-everything that keeps you healthy. During World War I, in fact, the Russians used diluted garlic juice as an antiseptic.

Garlic kills the bad bacteria in your digestive tract, so it directly addresses the cause of digestive problems. There are some easy ways to add garlic to your diet:

Eat at Oriental Restaurants Instead of Fast Food Chains

Oriental restaurants tend to be fast, because the rice is pre-made, and sauteing up a vegetables doesn't take very long. There are also cafeteria-style restaurants where you can select what you like, then sit down and eat. So eating in an oriental restaurant tends to take amount of time as a fast food place.

Note:
Unfortunately, many oriental restaurants use MSG. You want to avoid that. I'll go on at length about MSG in a future article. But the bottom line is that it's not healthy, and it doesn't make the food taste any better. It just drugs you into thinking the food tastes better.

When it comes to indigestion, there are several advantages to eating in an oriental restaurant:

Eliminate Allergic Reactions

In Conquering Allergies, I suggest that most allergies are initiated by problems in the diet. In particular, dietary inadequacies can produce "leaky gut" syndrome, which allows foreign proteins to enter the body undigested. The foreign proteins then trigger immune reactions which, because of the protein's similarity to the body's own tissues, can trigger autoimmune reactions.

It's quite possible that the weakened stomach lining that produces the symptoms of severe indigestion result from the same dietary causes. You can read that article for a more detailed information on the subject. Here, I'll summarize the main recommendations.

Avoid milk and cheese

Dairy products are the most common source of allergic reactions. (It affects the vast majority of the population.) Try going without dairy products for a week, and see how (or if) your body changes. If you're allergic to something else, it won't make a difference. But if you're allergic to dairy, you may find that your body settles down immediately.

Take MSM

MSM has been said to "paint the intestines". It's volatile, so it doesn't survive heating, processing, or storage. So we generally don't get very much in our diet. What it does for the intestines, it may do for the stomach lining, as well. For more information, see What is MSM?.

Avoid Partially Hydrogenated Oils

One way to mess up the stomach lining is to give your body inferior construction materials. You can't build a skyscraper out of plaster, and you can't build healthy cells with the trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oils. This is the most long-term of all the suggestions in this article, so I've put it last--but it may well be the most important thing you can do for your overall health because the health of every cell in your body depends on getting high quality fats. (For more information, see What's Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?)

Note:
When you eat french fries are fried in partially hydrogenated oils. The potatoes soak up 50% more fat, and 50% of that fat consists of the poisonous trans fats that create health problems. (The same thing applies to deep fried chicken, and the like.) The food manufacturers make a ton of money, because partially hydrogenated oils are cheap. Later on, the drug companies make a ton of money from the drugs you buy to manage the problems that result. You are the only one who pays.

If you start reading package labels, you'll be astonished at how many things contain partially hydrogenated oil. There has been some improvement, though. For example, it's really nice to look at the packages for Fritos and Sun Chips, these days. Thanks to the FDA, they now say "trans fats...0%". And guess what, "partially hydrogenated oil" is no longer on the list of ingredients. In 2002, they were on both those labels.

Soapbox:
It's worth remembering that giant food conglomerates are still not your friend. From 1993, when the science was so clear that the Center for Science in the Public Industry began petitioning the FDA to outlaw partially hydrogenated oils and the trans fats they contain, to 2003, when the industry was still fighting against the FDA's desire to include the cautionary label "Warning: Trans Fats can be Harmful to Your Health" on food labels, the industry continued using obesity inducing, disease producing partially hydrogenated oils in the foodstuffs they supplied, merely because it increased their profits. It's quite clear that such large corporations allow people to do things as a group that they would never do as individuals, because no one individual is solely responsible for the results. It is manifestly clear, therefore, that stringent laws are the only protection the public has to protect its food supply, since not even an incalculable cost to human health can persuade these companies to act as though they had a conscience.

Unfortunately, though, you can't even depend on a label that says "0% trans fat" to be sure that the product is totally free of partially hydrogenated oils. You still have to read the list of ingredients, because it's possible to use partially hydrogenated oils and still claim "0% trans fats" on the label. (To understand why that is so, see Trans Fat Labeling is Nearly Useless.)

But as weak as the labeling law is, fast food chains aren't even subject to that regulation. They're still using partially hydrogenated oils, because it's a cheap substitute for butter, and they're under no obligation whatever to inform you of it. So by all means, avoid restaurant breads and commercially fried foods. Be kind to your body--you'll miss it when it's gone.

Avoid Gluten

Try avoiding gluten for a month, and see if you don't feel a million times better. Gluten is the name for a family of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley. (For some, oats can be a problem, as well.) For a large percentage of the population, it erodes the lining of the intestinal wall. That erosion produces a wide variety of problems, including reactions to dairy products, inpaired sugar digestion, and an addiction response.

The connection to indigestion isn't entirely clear, but gluten has been implicated in so many health conditions, that testnig for gluten senstivity has become practically a knee-jerk response, for me. If you have a health problem, test for gluten senstivity. Period. If it's not a problem for you. Great. That's one more thing you can rule out. But if it is a problem for you--as it may be for as much as half the population, or more--then eliminating it from your diet will have a huge effect on a wide variety of symptoms, conditions, and diseases.

For more, see What's Wrong with Wheat?

Summary

You don't have to live with indigestion. It's entirely curable. But over-the-counter antacids and prescription drugs that reduce stomach acids only address the symptoms. Because they don't address the cause of the problem, they only give temporary relief--while making their manufacturers rich.

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