Tummy troubles are never pretty, but they can be remedied with these options.
1. Over-the-Counter Antacids
When to use them: When you get that roiling feeling.
What they do: Antacids, such as Tums and Rolaids, contain an element like calcium or magnesium to neutralize the acid secreted by your stomach lining. Products such as Pepcid and Zantac, called H2 blockers, also help reduce the amount of acid that your stomach produces, alleviating reflux symptoms. Be sure to use antacids as directed; you should take them to treat occasional pain, not pop them like Tic Tacs.
“Once in a while, sure, it’s fine to use antacids,” says Dr. Larry Weiss, a physician in San Francisco and a former consultant to the cruise industry on infectious stomach viruses. “But if you’re taking them on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor to find out exactly what the problem is.”
2. Bismuth Subsalicylate
When to use it: When you are not near your own bathroom and can’t let a case of diarrhea subside naturally.
What it does: This ingredient (also known as pink bismuth) is found in over-the-counter products, like Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol, and doubles as an antacid and an anti-inflammatory. It works, and sometimes too well: A common side effect is constipation. “Most diarrhea just needs to run its course,” says Weiss. “It’s best to let it clear up on its own.”
(Note: This medicine should not be given to children. Salicylates, in rare cases, have been shown to cause Reye’s syndrome).
3. Mild Foods
When to eat them: After diarrhea or stomach upset.
What they do: “The BRATT diet has been used for years to help treat diarrhea,” says Lauren Slayton, a registered dietitian in New York City. Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, plus tea, are the dream team to soothe stomach cramps and replenish your system. Such bland foods, containing simple sugars and starches with low acidity, are less likely to cause more distress. And they supply easily digested nourishment. Yogurt is another safe bet.
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4. Replenishing Drinks
When to drink them: After you’ve vomited (or otherwise expelled the contents of your angry stomach).
What they do: When you lose fluids, you lose electrolytes and other nutrients. Drinking Gatorade will rehydrate you, but Slayton prefers coconut water, a natural source of electrolytes and potassium (try O.N.E. coconut water, found in supermarkets). Weiss likes green, oolong, or blackberry-root tea, all of which have antioxidants and “soothe on an emotional level,” he says.
5. Roots and Herbs
When to use them: If your stomach hurts or you feel bloated; use daily if you have chronic digestive issues.
What they do: The wonder botanicals ginger, peppermint, and fennel are natural remedies. Ginger—freshly grated, dried, or candied—“improves the ease with which food moves through your system as it digests,” says Weiss. (Good old ginger ale contains little, if any, ginger; its curative values are largely anecdotal.) Peppermint can aid digestion and settle the stomach because it contains properties that dispel gas and relieve cramping. Fennel seeds (nibbled on or drunk in a tea) can relieve bloating and minimize gas. Drink ginger, peppermint, or fennel tea after a rich or spicy meal to avoid indigestion. If you regularly suffer from stomach upset, Slayton suggests you consult a doctor and take a peppermint-oil capsule daily to help line and soothe your intestines.
When to use them: If you have stomach issues regularly. Try taking them daily, via foods or supplements.
What they do: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help maintain a healthy digestive tract. (Conversely, antibiotics kill bacteria, both good and bad.) “Probiotics are your friends,” says Weiss.
“We’re still not sure why exactly they work, but once people start taking them, many find they feel better.” Dairy products, like yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk, contain different strains of acidophilus, a powerful probiotic. (The probiotics in yogurt have actually been shown to shorten the duration of stomach upset.)
You can also find supplements, like Culturelle, and chewable probiotic tablets in health-food stores. Look for Lactobacillus GG, an extensively studied form of acidophilus, or Bifidobacterium bifidum, also believed to be a well-tolerated immunity booster.