Indigestion and Other Common Digestive Disorders You Should Be Aware of 

It's fun to eat, but not as fun when overeating causes pain. Learn how to manage indigestion and other digestive disorders with herbal remedies.

Senior Asian woman holds a fried chicken but shows her lack of appetite

Indigestion is a commonly encountered complaint among adults of all ages. An unhealthy lifestyle, diet, and stress, to a large extent, can cause it. Most people experience episodes of indigestion at some point in their lives. However, when it occurs for prolonged periods, it may indicate a severe illness and you should check it by a physician. 

What Is Indigestion?   

Indigestion is challenging to explain as it covers several symptoms that cause discomfort, particularly in the abdomen. Symptoms of indigestion usually develop after a heavy meal or drinking. They include heartburn, feeling bloated, excessive belching or farting, and experiencing bitter-tasting fluids near your throat. 

Indigestion is a symptom related to disorders of the digestive system. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the digestive system is responsible for converting food into qi and blood – an essential substance for our life. Thus, good digestion is crucial to good health. 

Common Digestive Disorders

Asian woman experiences pain in the upper abdomen while working in front of a laptop
Stress, late nights, and sedentary habits contribute to indigestion.

Digestive disorders are frequently associated with spicy and oily foods. Food with vinegar can also cause indigestion by irritating the stomach lining. Late-night food binges and sedentary habits also contribute to digestive issues. Some common digestive disorders include: 

Indigestion 

Stagnation of food in the stomach and intestines causes indigestion. Overeating, eating too fast, and the inability to digest food effectively also contribute to the symptoms. The most common symptoms of this digestive disorder are hiccups, poor appetite, bad breath, and weird smells and tastes in the mouth. 

Irritable bowel syndrome 

Stress, emotional disturbances, anxiety, and lack of sleep play a significant role in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common digestive disorder in young adults. The symptoms of this disorder vary widely, and hence it is known as a syndrome rather than a disease. Common symptoms include bloating in the abdomen, cramping pain in the stomach, excessive farting, diarrhoea, and constipation. Acupuncture is frequently helpful in relieving the symptoms of IBS. 

Heartburn

Heartburn is also known as acid reflux disease. In this disorder, the stomach acids rise in the food pipe and produce a sour taste in the mouth. The acids also irritate the lining of the stomach and food pipe. They may also cause burning pain in the upper abdomen or chest. 

TCM views heartburn as an imbalance in the functions of the stomach and liver. Thus, the treatment is directed towards balancing and improving the functions of the stomach and liver. 

Indigestion Treatment

Treatment of indigestion usually involves over-the-counter antacids. However, excessive intake of antacids may harm the body in the long term. So, it’s advisable to incorporate lifestyle and dietary changes to control indigestion. 

Herbal remedies

A nurse offering two green apples to an elderly woman
Changing your lifestyle and diet can help prevent indigestion

TCM practitioners suggest several herbal cures for the treatment of digestive disorders. These are safe to consume and effective in keeping digestive disorders at bay for a long time. Furthermore, they are now available as convenient pills and sachets. 

Herbal remedies for indigestion include Hawthorn berry (shan za), barley sprout (mai ya), rice sprout (gu ya), chicken gizzard lining (ji nei jin), Areca seed (bing lang), unripe bitter orange (zhi shi), and tangerine peel (chen pi).  

Symptoms of IBS benefit from the use of white atractylodes (bai zhu), tangerine peel, poria (fu ling), Siler root (fang feng), white peony root (bai shao), liquorice root (gan cao), Chinese yam (shan yao), and dried ginger (gan jiang).  

Moreover, you can relieve heartburn with processed pinellia, Chinese dates, liquorice root, white peony root, white atractylodes, Hare’s ear root, Chinese angelica, poria, and fresh ginger. Besides these herbs, a classical TCM formula Xiao Yao Wan also helps relieve the symptoms. However, you should seek treatment from a licensed TCM practitioner to get a thorough and holistic diagnosis and a prescription best suited for your body. Note that some herbs may not be suitable for certain people. For example, consuming some herbs may cause a pregnant woman to miscarry and weaning in nursing mothers.

Dos and don’ts 

You can easily relieve mild episodes of indigestion without the need for medications. Just follow these practices: 

  • Drink less coffee, tea, carbonated drinks, and alcohol 
  • Use a few large pillows when you sleep to prop your head and prevent stomach acid from coming up 
  • Try to lose weight if you are overweight 
  • Eat your last meal at least 3-4 hours before sleeping 
  • Avoid oily, spicy, and fatty foods 
  • Don’t take painkillers belonging to the class NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, diclofenac, aspirin, etc. These worsen the symptoms of indigestion and can even cause ulcers in the stomach 
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes 

Though the symptoms of indigestion may be relieved by simply popping an antacid, it is very easy to fall into a vicious cycle. Instead, it is better to adopt a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle to prevent digestive disorders. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “TCM Perspective – Indigestion”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. NHS. 2020. Indigestion [Accessed 1 October 2021] 

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