Nutrition Articles

Dietary Tips for Digestive Distress

Stop Your Bellyaching!

You've probably eaten a large, spicy meal at one time or another, only to end up with an upset stomach (or other digestive woes). The occasional bout of heartburn isn't something of great concern, but when it happens frequently, it's time to stop and take notice. Some common symptoms of digestive distress include:
  • A burning sensation in the stomach
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating or feeling full
  • Belching or gas
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Acidic taste in the mouth
  • A growling or gurgling stomach
So how do you know if your symptoms are serious?

Heartburn, that all-too-familiar burning sensation in your chest, throat and stomach, affects about 20% of Americans at least once a week. Sometimes called "acid indigestion," it occurs when stomach acid comes up from the stomach and into the throat. If this happens repeatedly it can result in esophagitis, ulcers, or strictures (narrowing of the esophagus) and can increase the risk of esophageal cancer. Regularly-occurring heartburn can also be a sign of a more serious condition like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Indigestion, also called "dyspepsia," is defined as persistent or recurrent pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. Indigestion is common and can affect people of all ages. But persistent indigestion is often the sign of an underlying problem, such as GERD, ulcers, or gallbladder disease.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), defined as chronic reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus, affects 5-7% of the population. The two symptoms that indicate you could have GERD include persistent heartburn (two or more times per week) and difficulty swallowing (due to acid irritation that has caused the esophagus to become inflamed). The severity of GERD depends on the degree of dysfunction of the esophageal sphincter as well as the type and amount of fluid brought up from the stomach.

Peptic Ulcers are characterized by sores (ulcers) in the lining of the stomach or the duodenum (the first portion of the small intestine). No single cause of ulcers has been identified, but it is clear that ulcers are the result of an imbalance in digetive fluids in the stomach and/or duodenum. However, recent research suggests that most ulcers are caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).  A person can have an ulcer for sometime without having any specific symptoms. When symptoms occur they can include: a burning pain in the middle of the upper stomach between meals or at night, bloating, heartburn, nausea or vomiting. Ulcers can heal on their own, but it's best to get a medical evaluation and to review treatment options with your medical provider. Some people believe they can self-medicate by drinking milk for temporary relief. While milk does coat the stomach lining and provide initial relief, it can make an ulcer worse by stimulating the stomach to produce more acid, which further attacks the ulcer.
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About The Author

Tanya Jolliffe Tanya Jolliffe
Tanya earned a bachelor's degree in dietetics and nutrition and has more than 20 years of experience in nutrition counseling and education. She is a member of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. See all of Tanya's articles.

Member Comments

  • If you stop eating all the foods on the list, what is there left to eat? - 3/14/2014 11:54:53 AM
  • Ditto what Woubbie said.
    I have had GERD for more than 20 years.
    I can eat all kinds of fatty or spicy foods without heartburn, but a few bites of bread will bring on the pain.
    As my GI recommends, eat a "no white" diet - 2/9/2014 3:26:22 PM
    if you have a little heartburn eat 1/2 banana - 2/7/2014 6:30:40 PM
  • No starch, no sugar, no GERD. - 2/7/2014 8:32:18 AM
  • Drinking water can cause my Gerd at night. If it is really bad at night even though I took my morning meds a tablespoon of vinegar will help the burning in your throat. Took me awhile to try this as it seemed so strange but it did work. - 1/25/2014 2:23:22 PM
  • A tbs of juice from a jar of pickles can relieve indigestion very quickly. - 1/4/2014 10:24:40 AM
  • Helpful, but the list is only a very general guide. Many foods that bother me aren't on the list. Other helpful foods are. For example, I have found that peppermint is actually good for my belly. Nuts are good, too, in moderation and chewed thoroughly, especially for those of us trying to keep our fiber intake up. I think you have to keep a food diary and just figure it out for yourself what bothers you and what doesn't - 9/6/2013 9:39:44 PM
  • To Princessdi62, I have heard of LINX, but it is fairly new technology. Last year I had Nissan fundoplication for severe GERD. It's major surgery and not for everyone, but I am pretty much reflux free after having reflux since I was a small child, so I am pleased with the outcome. - 8/16/2013 9:06:12 AM
    What amazes me is that nobody is mentioning the importance of drinking plain ordinairy water.Quite often the acidity felt is due to the body being in need of water.Many people fail to drink enough water throughout theday,perfering to drink tea,coffee, carbonated drinks ,fruit juice when in fact all of these can affect the gut.Strong tea and coffee can cause indigestion.....M
    any people say they are unable to eat breakfast first thing because they feel sick,drinking a glass of water can prevent that. - 8/8/2013 7:08:12 PM
  • Hello there,

    Has anyone considered the LINX procedure at Hoag Hospital? I have heard it does wonders. - 7/29/2013 3:17:02 PM
  • Please go to an Allergist. They found out in 2 visits that I have intolerance to foods. I was a mess the next day. I went to the office and said now what? They stuck me with an Epi Pen and had me sit in the office for an hour.

    Also; older adults who never knew they had food intolerance or knew but food didn't bother them that bad, (when they were younger) may experience a more often episode of acid reflux, indigestion/heart burn or in my case a sensitive mouth/ lip, or tongue, hives or swollen eyes. - 5/29/2013 3:33:46 PM
  • I have acid reflux. My stomach is hurting me right now. I can't go to church this morning. I took a teaspoon of regular vinegar but I see that's no good for you. But I see where Lineyt said she take a shot of cider vinegar with the mother on it. Thanks I am going to try that. - 5/26/2013 10:01:33 AM
    I have digestive issues if I eat late at night, before going to bed.
    - 4/9/2013 11:26:37 PM
  • This was very informative, I've been diagnosed with acid reflux, gerd . Due to years of this issue I developed a hitial hernia witch is very painful, almost everything I consume in my body gives me heart burn. It's almost second nature to me. - 3/13/2013 7:51:44 AM
  • AZMIMI98
    I am new to SP and am enjoying the site, have great hopes that it will help to keep me motivated to lose the extra pounds that have attached over the years. As a health care worker and sufferer of GERD myself, the article is spot on re triggers ie caffeine, carbs, carbonated beverages, spicy, fatty foods, etc. The suggestions for what works are worth trying, because we are all so unique. I am going to try aloe juice which a friend uses and has for years with much relief of his night time symptoms. Thanks for writing about this important topic.... - 9/9/2012 10:00:55 AM

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