Having an upset stomach is not only uncomfortable—it can also be downright embarrassing. But you’re obviously not alone. Indigestion, or dyspepsia in medical lingo, strikes millions of Americans every day.
The culprit can be as simple as eating too much too fast or a more serious problem such as an ulcer, gastrointestinal disease or irritable bowel syndrome.
While over-the-counter treatments abound at local pharmacies, there are also several natural and home remedies that can be just as effective at soothing an upset stomach. We’ve separated fact from fiction when it comes to which of these therapies actually work and which ones are rooted in old wives’ tales rather than science.
This popular cooking spice native to Europe and western Asia has been used to treat gastrointestinal issues since as early as 1500 BC. Recent studies have shown that when taken with peppermint, as much as 95 percent of people suffering from dyspepsia experienced improvement in symptoms.
Caraway appears to help to inhibit smooth muscle contractions, which may reduce diarrhea. The caveat: Most studies have looked at the effectiveness of caraway in combination with another ingredient, so its sole benefit is unknown.
Peppermint and other members of the same plant family, including spearmint, were used to treat upset stomachs in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Today, peppermint oil and leaf are often paired with caraway to relieve irritable bowel and dyspeptic symptoms. The compounds menthol and menthone in peppermint may inhibit smooth muscle contractions, reducing gastrointestinal spasms.
Peppermint oil is an ingredient in most chewing gum, so you might try popping a piece at the onset of indigestion, or brewing a cup of peppermint tea.
A 2011 Taiwanese study found that this popular home remedy helps move food through the digestive tract quickly. But surprisingly, the researchers found it does nothing to alleviate the symptoms of an upset stomach.
Ginger may be more effective for symptoms when paired with peppermint. One study found that 74 percent of patients’ dyspeptic symptoms improved after being given a combo of ginger and peppermint.
Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a common home remedy for indigestion. One 2009 study found that it may help eliminate gas and rebalance pH, but otherwise there is little scientific evidence that backs up its effectiveness in treating upset stomachs.
Also, the risks of consuming too much baking soda may outweigh any benefits. Several medical studies chronicling emergency room visits found that it can be toxic in high quantities.
Banana powder helped relieve upset stomach symptoms in 75 percent of patients in a 1990 study in the journal Lancet, although the mechanism driving this relief is not yet known.
Charcoal Although it sounds odd, charcoal may play a role in soothing an upset stomach. A recent French study found that Carbosymag–a drug made of charcoal, simethicone and magnesium oxide–helped significantly reduce fullness, pain and bloating compared to a placebo.
Some studies show that, when mixed with other herbs such as ginger, cinnamon can be effective in reducing dyspeptic symptoms.
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