Bloated? Heartburn-y? Ease GI Tract Pain With These Natural, Stress-Relieving Fixes
Big, festive meals and spring stressors can lead to GI woes.
Spring should bring cheerier moods and warmer weather, but sometimes a jam-packed schedule and hurried eating can cause gastrointestinal (GI) pain. The gut is called “the second brain” for a reason; a stress response can inhibit your digestive system and disrupt the healthy function of the bowels, stomach, and esophagus, leading to an array of uncomfortable symptoms. However, you don’t necessarily have to resort to OTC and prescription drugs to relieve your issues.
While natural remedies are not a replacement for a doctor’s recommendations, they may help alleviate short-term symptoms without causing side effects. Check out these at-home treatments, backed by science, for bloat, nausea, stomachaches and spasms, heartburn, indigestion, and constipation.
To Banish Bloat: Try a Gentle 10-Minute Walk
Heavy fare at spring parties and potlucks raises the risk of uncomfortable bloat, stomach pressure, and GI pain. One possible cause? Delayed gastric emptying — when the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine slows. Fortunately, research suggests that getting a little gentle exercise after each meal and snack (try stretching your legs by strolling around the yard, or walking up and down the driveway when you pick up the mail) can reduce symptoms. Why? Moving the legs and hips stimulates gentle stomach contractions, plus encourages the valve at the bottom of the stomach to open, allowing food to pass into the small intestine.
To Nix Nausea: Sniff Lemon Essential Oil
Big, festive meals or hurried eating on a go-go-go day can quickly turn a happy stomach into a queasy one. But simply taking six slow, deep sniffs of lemon — either essential oil or a freshly cut lemon, if you have one handy — may help calm overstimulated nerves in the brain’s nausea center, steadying an upset stomach. (One 2014 study found that it helped relieve nausea and vomiting in pregnant patients.) Tip: To infuse your home with this fresh scent and hopefully keep nausea at bay for hours, simmer lemon slices in a small pot of water on the stove.
To Soothe Spasms: Gaze at Clouds for 15 Minutes
If you’re prone to stomachaches, the stress of juggling your day-to-day tasks on top of spring cleaning may increase your risk of flare-ups. Thankfully, you may be able to reduce your abdominal pain by practicing peaceful rituals each day. In 2015, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital tested this idea on patients with irritable bowel syndrome or disorder (IBS and IBD). They found patients who actively practiced relaxation techniques every day for eight weeks experienced fewer symptoms and a better quality of life.
A simple, 15-minute relaxing activity to add to your routine? Sit near a window and gaze out at the clouds or watch the sun cast shadows through the trees.
To Eliminate Heartburn: Practice Deep Breathing
Hamburgers, potato salad, ice cream… it’s no wonder heartburn risk increases when the cookouts start up. Instead of missing out, try taking slow, deep belly breaths after finishing a big meal. Research published in 2012 found that deep-breathing exercises significantly reduced gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms in study participants. Why might this technique help? Controlled belly breathing activates the diaphragm, a muscle that stops food and stomach acid from splashing into the esophagus.
To Erase Indigestion: Chew on Fennel Seeds
Do you suffer from indigestion, burping, and other upper-GI issues? For potential relief when you feel trouble brewing, slowly chew, then swallow, ½ a teaspoon of fennel seeds. A scientific paper published in 2017 notes that fennel contains anethole, a plant compound that helps relax stomach cramping, encourages the release of digestive enzymes, and tamps down gas formation, easing bloat and burping.
To Relieve Constipation: Sip Sparkling Water (or Any Water)
Many of us are prone to constipation as the hectic spring schedule gets underway and our stress levels rise. Thankfully, sipping a glass of sparkling water or still water when you’re feeling constipated may provide relief. That’s the word from a 2002 study, during which researchers gave participants with dyspepsia (pain in and around the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES) and constipation carbonated water for 15 days. Those who drank carbonated water experienced less dyspepsia and slightly less constipation, and those who drank still water only experienced a slight reduction in constipation.
Why is water so helpful? The bubbles in sparkling water may encourage gentle intestinal muscle contractions that keep food moving through the digestive tract. Plus, liquids add fluid to the colon and bulk to stools, softening them and making them easier to pass.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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