There are certain lifestyle habits that have a direct effect on dyspepsia: overeating or eating too quickly; overconsumption of fatty, greasy, or spicy foods; overconsumption of caffeinated, carbonated, or alcoholic beverages; chocolate (which can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, which connects the esophagus to the stomach); nicotine; and anxiety and emotional stressors.
Whether or not you encounter digestive discomfort on a regular or semi-regular basis, there are basic dietary guidelines that most people can abide by. The following is a list of helpful tips to help optimize your digestive experience:
Drink a glass of room temperature or warm water first thing in the morning. This will start your day with proper hydration, and also helps to stimulate your digestive tract. Many people add lemon juice to warm water as an additional digestive aid. [Personal tip: I leave a full glass of water on my bathroom sink the night before, so it’s ready and waiting in the morning when I’m still bright eyed and bushy tailed.]
Eat a nutritious breakfast within the first hour and a half of waking. This breaks your nighttime fast and awakens your metabolism.
If you have a difficult time eating first thing in the morning, or you experience morning nausea, try adding two or three slices of fresh ginger to warm or hot water. Studies have shown that ginger aids in proper digestion and alleviates nausea and symptoms of morning sickness.
Eat with Regularity:
Don’t skip meals or let yourself become overly hungry. The regularity of our food intake helps pace our metabolism. After going several hours without food, our bodies enter a survival process referred to as, “starvation mode,” where our metabolism slows and calories are preserved. This can cause an energy crash that leads to poor nutritional choices.
But Don’t Continually Graze:
Some people find eating several small meals throughout the day to be beneficial for their dietary habits, but take care not to continually graze. Our digestive tracts need to go through fasting periods of at least 90 minutes. During these fasting periods, migrating motor complexes (waves of activity) sweep through the GI tract, triggering peristaltic waves that help facilitate the transportation of indigestible substances.
It’s important to not lay down immediate after eating. This puts pressure on the esophageal sphincter and can cause a reflux of the stomach contents into the esophagus, leading to heartburn. Your stomach is on the left side of your abdomen, so if you must be in a reclining position, lay on your left side, allowing gravity to keep your food within your stomach. Better yet, go for a 15-minute walk after a meal. Studies have shown that an easy after-meal walk can aid gastric emptying and regulate blood sugar levels for those with type-2 diabetes.
Don’t Eat Late:
If you experience heartburn while trying to fall asleep, or wake with a cough, scratchy throat, or sour taste in your mouth, you might be eating too close to your bedtime, or laying down too soon after eating. Avoid eating within two hours prior to laying down.
In 2013, Lima et al performed a study of the use of acupuncture on patients with dyspepsia. Their study confirmed findings of an earlier China study, showing that acupuncture has a definitive and lasting effect on the symptoms associated with dyspepsia, including GI symptoms, as well as an improvement in overall anxiety, depression, and quality of life, factors believed to influence chronic GI discomfort.
Note: If you experience abdominal pain or gastric discomfort on an on-going basis, keep a food journal to see if you notice a pattern of food triggers. If dietary adjustments do not change your symptoms, consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor, as these may be signs of other internal issues.