Indigestion is uncomfortable and annoying, but it’s a common problem, often caused by something you’ve eaten or drunk that has disagreed with you. It’s not usually a sign of anything serious, often goes away on its own, and can be easily treated.
Symptoms include pain or discomfort in the top of your tummy and an acidic taste in your mouth, due to stomach acid rising up (or ‘refluxing’) into your throat. This can also cause a burning feeling in your chest, called heartburn.
A pharmacist can suggest medicines to help, including antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These reduce the acid in your stomach, to help ease symptoms. However, you may want to try a natural remedy instead.
Many natural or ‘herbal’ medicines have been around for centuries, and this includes remedies for indigestion. Read on to learn more about some of the most popular options. Just bear in mind that they should be used with caution, as there isn’t always much scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.
And remember, if you’re getting indigestion a lot, it’s worth speaking to your doctor, who can check what might be causing it. Nausea which is ongoing, getting worse or affecting your day-to-day life could mean you have an underlying cause and it’s very important to see your doctor.
Camomile is a daisy-like flower that can be dried to make tea or taken as a tablet, and it’s generally considered to be a safe remedy. The ‘active ingredients’, which are thought to be beneficial, include an essential oil called bisabolol and plant nutrients called flavonoids. A cup of camomile tea is a common remedy for indigestion and stomach cramps, and it may help to soothe your digestive tract. It’s thought to reduce inflammation, and may also improve sleep.
As well as being popular in traditional sweet and candy shops, natural liquorice has medicinal qualities. Once extracted from the root of the liquorice plant, it can be used in many forms, including tablets, capsules, liquid extracts and teas. The active ingredient in liquorice is called glycyrrhizin.
It’s thought that liquorice is good for indigestion because it increases the mucous coating on the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach (oesophagus), helping to protect it from stomach acid. It’s often taken to relieve stomach upsets, and it’s even been claimed that it can treat stomach ulcers – although there isn’t scientific proof of this.
While it’s safe to take small amounts of liquorice, however, large doses have been known to cause serious side effects. And if you have high blood pressure, take certain medications or are pregnant, you should avoid it. If in doubt, speak to your doctor.
Extracted from parts of the peppermint plant, peppermint oil has been used to help with digestion for centuries.
It’s now understood that it relaxes the muscle cells lining your digestive system, which may help with bloating and tummy pain – although scientific studies have had mixed results. And if you have heartburn, it’s worth bearing in mind that it may actually make this worse.
People with certain conditions or on some medications shouldn’t take it, so it’s best to speak to your doctor or pharmacist first.
Ginger is another herbal remedy that’s been used for centuries to soothe heartburn and improve digestion. It’s the root of the ginger plant and is available in many forms – fresh, dried, powdered, or as an oil or juice. It contains active ingredients called gingerols, which give it a distinctive flavour and smell.
While many people find ginger helps with indigestion, however, other people can get a burning sensation or digestive discomfort when they eat it. Ginger may also increase the risk of bleeding, so it may not be suitable if you’re on certain medications.
Taking herbal medicines safely
It’s important to remember that herbal medicines can have a big effect on your body. ‘Natural’ doesn’t always mean safe and, like regular medicines, herbal medicines can cause side effects or a bad reaction in some people. You should read any information carefully and consider the risks before you start using any medicine.
Herbal medicines may not be suitable if you:
- are taking any other medications
- have a serious health condition, such as kidney or liver disease
- are about to have surgery
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
- are elderly
- are planning on giving them to a child
You should talk to your doctor if you fall into any of these groups. They will be able to help you find a safe remedy for indigestion.
- many people use natural or ‘herbal’ remedies or medicines to help with indigestion
- there isn’t always much scientific evidence that they are effective
- common options include camomile, liquorice, peppermint oil and ginger
- you should consider any risks before taking natural remedies and medicines, and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns