"Many clinicians have discovered
that in the overwhelming
majority of individuals with
heartburn, indigestion, etc., it is
underproduction of stomach acid
(hydrochloric acid) that is the
problem, not overproduction."
Indigestion, or dyspepsia, commonly refers to general
abdominal discomfort during and after meals and may
be the result of specific diseases of the stomach or the
intestines. The most frequently occurring symptoms are
diarrhea, heartburn, abdominal cramps and pain, gas
distress, and nausea. Heartburn is a mild to severe burning
pain in the upper abdomen or beneath the breastbone.
It usually results from spasms of the esophagus or the
regurgitation into the esophagus of the stomach contents,
the gastric acid levels of which cause irritation. Heartburn
typically occurs after meals, often after those containing
fatty foods, or when a person is lying down. The following
natural substances may be helpful in the treatment of
heartburn and indigestion.
Dietary Supplements: Primary Recommendations
Betaine Hydrochloride and Pepsin
If our stomachs are normal, they digest food with very strong
hydrochloric acid and pepsin, an enzyme active only in an
acid environment. Without normal, adequate acid and pepsin
production by our stomachs, we don't get all the nourishment
we should from food. Many clinicians have discovered that in the
overwhelming majority of individuals with heartburn, indigestion,
etc., it is underproduction of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid)
that is the problem, not overproduction. Consequently, the
use of betaine hydrochloride, a safe supplemental form of
hydrochloric acid, may be a good choice for many heartburn/
Both human and animal research has demonstrated that certain
digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas reduces with
age.1,2 In addition, pancreatic insufficiency may occur for other
reasons, including pancreatic and non-pancreatic diseases—
both of which may cause an impaired production of pancreatic
digestive enzymes, resulting in poor digestion and malnutrition.
The use of a pancreatic enzyme supplement containing has
been successful in improving digestion in these situations.
Licorice root is a botanical with an extensive history of medicinal
use. Research shows that it protects the mucous membranes
lining the digestive tract by increasing production of mucin, a
substance that protects against stomach acid and other harmful
Peppermint, Fennel, Caraway, and Wormwood
Certain herbs are classified as carminatives—substances
that relieve gas and gripping (severe pain in the bowel).
Some carminatives herbs, including Peppermint, Fennel,
Caraway, and Wormwood, have had good research
conducted on them. For example, double-blind studies have
shown that combinations of Peppermint and Caraway oil,
as well as a combination of Peppermint, Fennel, Caraway,
and Wormwood could help people with indigestion.4,5 It is
believed that carminative agents work, at least in part, by
relieving spasms in the intestinal tract.6
Besides being and healthy and delicious food (especially
with a little bit of warm dipping butter—yum!), Artichoke
is also a plant with medicinal qualities. In double-blind
studies, extracts of Artichoke have been repeatedly shown
to be beneficial for people with indigestion.7 Artichoke
is particularly useful when the problem is lack of bile
production by the liver.8 If you're going to try Artichoke for
this purpose, it is recommended that you look for an extract
providing 500–1,000 mg per day of cynarin, the main active
constituent of Artichoke.
Turmeric is a bright yellow herb used in preparing some very
tasty culinary dishes. Medicinally, turmeric has also been
demonstrated in double-blind research to relieve indigestion
problems in subjects in Thailand.9
Dietary Supplements: Secondary Recommendations
Lactose intolerance can cause many digestive problems,
including gas, cramps, and diarrhea. Although lactose intolerant
individuals would do best to avoid dairy products, if there are
occasions when they do plan to consume some, then they should
use a supplement containing the lactase enzyme. Research has
shown that lactase preparations can reduce pain, bloating and
total symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.10 However,
one study demonstrated that various lactase products differ in
their effectiveness,11 so you may need to try a two or three before
you find the one that works best for you.
Traditionally, the herb Chamomile can be effective at relieving
irritated or inflamed mucous membranes within digestive
tract. Furthermore, since heartburn sometimes involves reflux
of stomach acid into the esophagus, the anti-inflammatory
properties of chamomile can also be useful in this regard.12
In addition, chamomile has been recognized for its ability to
promote normal digestion.13
Ginger is also a traditional carminative herb.14 Animal research
has shown that ginger is capable of enhancing the activity of fat
and carbohydrate digestive enzymes.15
Aloe Vera can be helpful for people with indigestion. In fact,
Aloe Vera is one of the natural substances employed in
inflammatory bowel disease therapy that has shown promise.16
Of course Aloe Vera is one of the oldest known medicinal herbs.
The mucilaginous gel, the source of "Aloe Vera Juice" and "Aloe
Vera Gel," is used internally as a healer and tonic, and applied
externally as a burn and wound remedy.
Diet and/or other considerations
In a very small minority of individuals with heartburn and
indigestion, stomach testing is normal or shows over acidity.
In these few people, both diet changes and supplemental
items can help. Elimination of caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol
and cigarette smoking are all recommended, even though
sometimes hard to do. For a very few, identification and
elimination of food allergies or sensitivities reduces heartburn
and indigestion. There are other problems that may cause or be
associated with heartburn, bloating and belching after meals,
and indigestion. These can include peptic ulcer, malfunction of
the sphincter muscle at the end of the esophagus and other
much more rare problems. If you have these symptoms, it's
best to work with a doctor to establish what the cause might
be before accepting the popular but usually-mistaken belief
that indigestion, bloating and heartburn are all just due to "too
much stomach acid."
- Laugier R, et al, Digestion (1991) 50(3 4):202 11.
- Wang CS, Floyd RA, Kloer HU, Pancreas (1986) 1(5):438 42.
- Goso Y, et al, Biochem Physiol (1996) 113C:17–21.
- May B, et al, Arzneim Forsch (1996) 46:1149–53.
- Westphal J, Hörning M, Leonhardt K, Phytomedicine (1996) 2:285–91.
- Forster HB, Niklas H, Lutz S, Planta Med(1980) 40:303–19.
- Kraft K., Phytomedicine(1997) 4:370–78 [review].
- Kirchhoff R, et al, Phytomedicine(1994) 1:107 15.
- Thamlikitkul V, et al, J Med Assoc Thai (1989) 72:613–20.
- Lin MY, et al, Dig Dis Sci (1993) 38(11):2022 7.
- Ramirez FC, Lee K, Graham DY, Am J Gastroenterol(1994) 89(4):566 70.
- Matricaria flos. ESCOP monograph, Oct 1990.
- Mills SY. Out of the Earth: The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine.(1991) London: Viking Press, pp. 448–51.
- Blumenthal M, et al, (eds), The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. (1998) Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 425–26.
- Platel K, Srinivasan K, Int J Food Sci Nutr (1996) 47(1):55 9.
- Robinson M, Eur J Surg Suppl (1998) (582):90 8