Is indigestion running your life?

For many Americans, indigestion is a common occurrence, and uncomfortable symptoms may happen daily. Indigestion is a collection of problems that includes bloating, belching, nausea, heartburn, diarrhea and constipation. Sometimes indigestion can be a sign of an underlying medical issue and should be taken seriously.  But for many, it can easily be avoided.

I recently spoke with Dr. Jack Rosemarin, of the Digestive Disease and Nutrition Center of Westchester, NY, who shed light on some common causes of indigestion and what can be done to alleviate or prevent the symptoms.

The primary causes of non-chronic indigestion can be avoided by making simple lifestyle and dietary changes. Overeating frequently leaves us feeling bloated and sluggish and can lead to constipation or gas. The easiest way to avoid overeating is to listen to your body’s cues for fullness. Eat your meals sitting down and turn the TV off – it can distract us from listening to our body’s signal that tells us we’ve had enough to eat.

Give yourself at least 20 minutes to sit down and enjoy a meal. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly and remember to chew with your mouth closed; chewing food or gum with an open mouth can bring air into the stomach and cause excess gas. Switching from a straw to a cup can also cut down on the amount of air that you bring into your stomach. Eliminate sucking on candy to help reduce gas.

The foods that you eat or drink may be causing your discomfort, especially as allergies have been on the rise. According to Medical News Today, eight foods are responsible for 90 percent of allergic food reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, soy and wheat.

A good first step to discovering your own food triggers is to keep a food journal for a few weeks to try to find a correlation to a specific food or drink. Observing how your body reacts to different foods may be more effective than having an allergy test done, since you may have a food sensitivity that doesn’t show up on an allergy test or your results could be a false positive.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s health blog states that food allergies are often over-diagnosed – as much as 9 percent of the U.S population tests positive for a peanut allergy, while only 2 percent is truly allergic. Rosemarin also said that alcohol is a common cause of indigestion, as well as frequent usage of aspirin and ibuprofen.

Keep your diet as clean as possible by limiting processed foods and increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables to help reduce your chances of indigestion. Regular exercise can also help keep constipation away; even a simple walk after dinner can help get things moving.  But make sure you stay hydrated, because dehydration can make constipation worse.

Probiotics have also been found to help indigestion caused by antibiotics, by supplying good bacteria to the gut. Rosemarin has seen improvement after prescribing probiotics to patients with spastic colon and diarrhea caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – which points to the possibility of these being bacterial issues.

Chronic indigestion may be a sign of a serious underlying problem. IBS, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and gallstones, among others, usually begin with signs of indigestion, and this is often what brings these patients in for treatment. Mild bacterial diseases can also begin with symptoms of indigestion and require treatment as well.

Non-chronic indigestion is typically relieved after a bowel movement or once the offending food has passed through the system – which usually happens in less than 24 hours. If the stomach pain persists for more than 24 hours and you cannot link it to a food sensitivity or allergy, then Rosemarin recommends seeking medical attention.