Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, millions of women have reported worsening or new digestive woes. To the rescue: natural remedies for the most common symptoms.
That stomachache we all feel every time we hear about the COVID-19 pandemic? It’s real. Digestive discomfort is on the rise as the pandemic drags on. “The stress of the unknown has brought up GI symptoms in people who have never had GI issues before,” asserts Jill Deutsch, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Yale Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. Indeed, people suffering from “pandemic stomach” are buying up Tums, Pepcid and other over-the-counter antacids like they’re the new toilet paper — some grocery stores have even started limiting how much heartburn medication shoppers can buy. What’s more, adds Dr. Deutsch, lifestyle changes, such as the shift to remote work and a more sedentary routine, can cause or exacerbate stomach troubles.
But you don’t have to suffer! We asked top doctors for inexpensive solutions for the most common symptoms.
If you can’t go…
About 25 percent of people have developed “quarantine constipation,” according to a University of Mexico study. A key reason? Changes in sleep schedules. One study found that adults who got too much or too little sleep were more likely to report being backed up than those who slept eight hours a night. “If you’re getting poor-quality sleep, your brain may not cue your bowel to wake up and contract,” explains study author Kyle Staller, M.D., director of the GI Motility Laboratory at Harvard Medical School. An easy Rx: Load up on high-fiber prebiotic foods such as asparagus, apples and onions. A 2020 study found that prebioticsn (like these from Amazon) improve constipation, and other research shows they reduce stress and improve sleep. Also smart: Sip a mug of chicory root coffee each morning. In one study, a daily dose of prebiotic chicory root made stools 400 percent easier to pass.
If you have gas and bloat…
More than half of women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — a chronic disorder marked by pain, bloat and more — say pandemic stress has made their condition worse. In addition, “changes in sleep and eating habits can trigger IBS,” notes William Chey, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the University of Michigan. To lower your risk of developing or flaring IBS, try beginning a deep-breathing practice using a meditation app, like Calm. Harvard studies show IBS sufferers who regularly meditate report 53 percent less GI pain. Dr. Deutsch also advises taking 90 mg. of peppermint oil twice a day in a supplement formulated to treat IBS, like IBgard ($27, Amazon). Her studies found this dose reduced IBS symptoms by 40 percent after four weeks.
If you have reflux…
“Stress can slow down digestion, which keeps food in your stomach longer and gives stomach acid more time to cause heartburn,” explains Dr. Chey. “But during the pandemic people have also gained weight and are drinking more alcohol, which can worsen heartburn as well.” To help combat the burn, Dr. Deutsch suggests trying deglycyrrhizinated licorice, which increases mucus production in the esophagus to protect the delicate tissues from the irritating effects of stomach acid. Look for products that contain deglycyrrhizinated licorice (like Nature’s Way DGL, Amazon) and take 75 mg. 20 minutes before meals.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.