By Jeyashree Sundaram, MBA
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract plays an important role in digestion. Dyspepsia or indigestion is a common condition that occurs when the body has difficulty in digesting food. Dyspepsia can be an occasional or recurring problem. Modifications to the lifestyle can often provide significant relief from dyspepsia.
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A balanced diet can improve the individual’s overall health and assist in managing certain diseases and medical conditions, among which it can decrease the likelihood of indigestion.
For example, people with dyspepsia would do well to avoid carbonated and fizzy drinks, caffeinated food and beverages, alcoholic beverages, food containing high citric content as in oranges, tomatoes and products made of tomatoes, greasy food, and fatty or spicy food. Foods and beverages containing caffeine should be reduced or avoided as the presence of caffeine stimulates overproduction of gastric acid.
Studies of dyspepsia diets reveal that food items such as pickles, sausages, vinegar, bolognas, tea, grains, soft drinks, red pepper, pasta, pizza, and salty foods aggravate symptoms of indigestion. On the other hand, foods such as rice, apple, bread, rock candy, honey, yogurt, caraway seeds, dates, walnut, and quince alleviate dyspepsia. Watermelon tops the list of fruits that aggravate dyspepsia. Citrus fruits such as oranges also fall under this category.
This means that adapting one’s diet by drinking and eating correctly and avoiding beverages and foods that can worsen indigestion symptoms can help in managing indigestion.
During mealtimes, care should be taken to create a calm and relaxed atmosphere, eat in small quantities, and chew the food slowly and completely. It is advised to never skip meals or to overeat. Mixing hot and cold food is better avoided. Such people should also avoid fruits immediately before or after a meal.
An important factor in causing indigestion is mental health. Anxiety and stress cause discomfort to the stomach. Feelings of anxiety make the nervous system overactive and so divert valuable components from the digestive system.
The rate of digestion is reduced as the production of natural digestive enzymes and stomach acids are negatively affected. The person may develop the habit of eating food too quickly, skipping meals, or not chewing properly, or may manifest other symptoms of indigestion.
Though the role of stress in dyspepsia is not direct, it may underlie some symptoms of indigestion. A stressed mind displays anxiety, worry, or irritability and may result in insomnia. Conversely, if an individual is sleep-deprived, the mind develops stress. Stress can create muscle pain, headaches, and dizziness. Muscle tension can put increased pressure on the stomach and so trigger heartburn.
If the indigestion is due to depression and anxiety, talk therapy may help. Also known as psychotherapy, this may help the patients identify emotions that trouble them and provide an opportunity to change their thoughts and action, besides assisting individuals to learn how to reduce stress levels.
When indigestion is a result of stress, stress management techniques such as counseling, relaxation exercises, meditation practices such as yoga, and deep breathing are considered useful.
Practicing yoga for dyspepsia helps to maintain a balanced metabolism. While performing certain yogic postures, blood flow to certain body parts is restricted. Other postures exist that are specific for dyspepsia such as Pavanmuktasana (treatments for all gastric problems), Ardhakurmasana (alleviates indigestion problems), Padahastasana (treatment for indigestion and symptoms such as bloating of abdomen), Vajrasana (aids in digestion), Suryaved pranayam (treatment for indigestion), and Shavasana (for keeping the body relaxed).
Discussion with the physician is recommended to understand how to avoid the excess intake of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relievers, or other medications that may create irritation in the lining of the stomach is recommended. If that is not a possible option, these medications should be consumed along with food.
Wearing tight clothes may encourage food contents to re-enter the esophagus by squeezing the stomach too much, so this should be avoided.
While sleeping, the head should be placed in an elevated position, a minimum of 6 inches above the feet. Using a prop such as a pillow under the head will help maintain the flow of digestive juices downwards to the intestines instead of to the esophagus.
Weight gain increases the pressure on the abdomen and pushes the stomach up. This can cause the stomach acid to regurgitate into the esophagus. So maintaining a healthy body weight is important. Regular exercise will help to maintain an appropriate body weight and also promotes good digestion. However, exercising immediately after meals is not advisable.
As alcohol can create irritation to the lining of the stomach, reducing alcohol consumption will help in mitigating dyspepsia. Avoiding late-night snacks, giving up smoking, attempting a lifestyle that is stress-free, going to bed 2–3 hours after food intake, getting sufficient sleep, spending time in activities that bring joy, and drinking plenty of water are some of the other self-care techniques that can be practiced to manage indigestion.