Gas & Indigestion

Indigestion refers to any number of gastrointestinal complaints, which can include gas (belching, flatulence or bloating) and upset stomach.

Living with acid reflux can be hard enough, but when you add other problems to that, it can be downright life-changing. Some reflux sufferers also have problems with gas and indigestion, and those problems mixed with acid reflux are enough to make anyone miserable. You may not think they are related, but there are times when gas and indigestion problems are directly linked to your acid reflux, or are aggravating your condition.

In the case of gas, it might be making your reflux worse, or might even be the cause of it. When food sits in the stomach for too long, it begins to break down but does not necessarily move through the digestive tract quickly enough. That creates gas in the stomach and can put undue pressure on the muscle between your stomach and your esophagus that is meant to stay closed to prevent reflux. When opened, or even pushed open repeatedly by excess gas, you run the risk of having acid splash up into your esophagus.

When it comes to indigestion, you may think it is just a natural part of acid reflux, but that might be related to the gas problem you are experiencing. Gas indigestion problems can feel much like acid reflux symptoms, but are more likely the cause of your reflux.

Some sufferers think that they are producing too much stomach acid and that is the root of all of their problems. However, what most people don’t realize is that as you age, you actually produce lower amounts of stomach acid, and that may be what is at the root of your gas and indigestion problems. When there is not enough acid, food is not digested as quickly and cannot move through your system. Instead, it sits in the stomach producing excess gas as a result. It’s a vicious circle.

Causes of Gas & Indigestion

Gas in the digestive tract—the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine—comes from two sources:

  • swallowed air
  • normal breakdown of certain undigested foods by harmless bacteria naturally present in the large intestine, also called the colon

Swallowed Air

Aerophagia, or air swallowing, is a common cause of gas in the stomach. Everyone swallows small amounts of air when eating and drinking. However, eating or drinking rapidly, chewing gum, smoking, or wearing loose dentures can cause some people to take in more air.

Burping, or belching, is the way most swallowed air—which contains nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide—leaves the stomach. The remaining gas moves into the small intestine, where it is partially absorbed. A small amount travels into the large intestine for release through the rectum. The stomach also releases carbon dioxide when stomach acid mixes with the bicarbonate in digestive juices, but most of this gas is absorbed into the bloodstream and does not enter the large intestine.

Breakdown of Undigested Foods

The body does not digest and absorb some carbohydrates—the sugar, starches and fiber found in many foods—in the small intestine because of a shortage or absence of certain enzymes that aid digestion.
This undigested food then passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, where normal, harmless bacteria break down the food, producing hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and, in about one-third of all people, methane. Eventually these gases exit through the rectum.

Symptoms of Gas and Indigestion

The most common symptoms of gas are flatulence, abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, and belching. However, not everyone experiences these symptoms. The type and degree of symptoms probably depends on how much gas the body produces, how many fatty acids the body absorbs, and a person’s sensitivity to gas in the large intestine.

Belching

An occasional belch during or after meals is normal and releases gas when the stomach is full of food. However, people who belch frequently may be swallowing too much air and releasing it before the air enters the stomach.

Sometimes a person with chronic belching may have an upper gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, such as peptic ulcer disease, gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), or gastro paresis, also called delayed gastric emptying.

Sometimes people believe that swallowing air and releasing it will relieve the discomfort of these disorders, and they may intentionally or unintentionally develop a habit of belching to relieve discomfort.

Gas-bloat syndrome may occur after fundoplication surgery done to correct GERD. The surgery creates a one-way valve between the esophagus and stomach that allows food and gas to enter the stomach but often prevents normal belching and the ability to vomit.

Flatulence

Another common complaint is too much flatulence. However, most people do not realize that passing gas 14 to 23 times a day is normal. Too much gas may be the result of carbohydrate malabsorption.

Abdominal Bloating

Many people believe that too much gas causes abdominal bloating. However, people who complain of bloating from gas often have normal amounts and distribution of gas. They may just be unusually aware of gas in the digestive tract.

Bloating is usually the result of an intestinal disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The cause of IBS is unknown but may involve abnormal movements and contractions of intestinal muscles and increased pain sensitivity in the intestines. These disorders may give a sensation of bloating because of increased sensitivity to gas.

Any disease that causes intestinal inflammation or obstruction may also cause abdominal bloating. In addition, people who have had many operations, internal hernias may experience bloating or pain. Finally, eating a lot of fatty food can delay stomach emptying and cause bloating and discomfort, but not necessarily too much gas.

Abdominal Pain and Discomfort

Some people have pain when gas is present in the intestine. When pain is on the left side of the colon, it can be confused with heart disease, which sometimes causes abdominal pain. When the pain is on the right side of the colon, it may mimic gallstones or appendicitis.

When to See a Doctor for Intestinal Gas

Firstly, it is important to understand what one classifies as excess gas. One must keep in mind that some of us may feel the need to pass gas up to 20 times or more a day. This is completely normal, so the amount of gas that falls within this bracket is considered ordinary. If one feels that certain foods could be triggering the problem, the best thing to do is to maintain a diet journal that could be reviewed to identify the cause of bloating and gas.

While you may have already read about the possible causes and ruled out most of them, it is important to study the symptoms. Although occasional discomfort and gas is not a sign of serious illness, long-term intestinal problems could serve as a warning sign of a deeper medical issue.

Here are a few possible causes of abdominal pain and gas that could mean serious business:

  • A food allergy or intolerance (like lactose or gluten)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Kidney stones, appendix or gall bladder problems
  • Abdominal tumor
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Digestive tract ulcer
  • Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease)

If you notice symptoms other than those mentioned, then it’s best to seek medical advice in order to rule out the possibility of any of the above problems.

How to Prevent Gas and Bloating

Since we have looked at the various reasons for the process of digestion going amiss, let us see a few tips to avoid gas and bloating:

  • Slow down. Even when you are really hungry, eat slowly. Shoveling down food really fast can result in gulping down air which results in gas and bloating.
  • Choose water over fizzy sodas or other carbonated drinks. The carbonation is just additional air in your gut that you don’t need.
  • Don’t drink a lot of water while you are eating so as not to dilute the digestive enzymes and stomach acids. If you wish to hold off thirst, make sure to drink ample water about an hour before eating your meals.
  • If you must drink water while you are eating, then take small sips of warm water which is just enough to help your food go down.
  • Probiotics are a great help when it comes to balancing the good and bad bacteria in your gut. Fermented foods like yogurt and dishes like idlis, dosas, dhoklas, wadas and kadhi are a flavorful way to get your digestion back on track.

Ayurvedic Treatment for Indigestion

Herbs
  • Carom Seed (Carum Copticum): Ajwain has been traditionally used for stomach problems since ages. Carom seeds or ajwain aids in the release of gut enzymes that boost digestive function. The easiest way to use ajwain is to chew on 5-10 seeds taken with a pinch of rock salt. This can be washed down with water, for immediate relief.
  • Amla (Phyllanthus Emblica): Amla or Indian Gooseberry is excellent for digestive disorders as it helps balance the pH of the stomach. Drink amla juice every morning on an empty stomach. The fibers and Vitamin C of amla can cure the problems of acidity and constipation.
  • Ginger (Zingiber Officinale): Chew on a fresh garlic piece of ginger after meals to prevent gas and indigestion problems. If you don’t like to chew it raw, you can either season your dishes with garlic powder or you can sip on ginger tea to cure gas. Ginger juice, when mixed with honey following a heavy non-vegetarian meal, is best remedy to keep the digestive tract running smoothly.
  • Clove (Syzygium Aromaticum): Clove or Lavang can boost gut motility and gastrointestinal secretions to help in the digestion process, curing gas and indigestion. Eat a clove lightly roasted in ghee to eliminate wind and indigestion. To cure indigestion and intestinal problems, mix 2-3 drops of clove oil in sugar and consume after meals.
  • Black Pepper (Piper Nigrum): Pepper has a stimulating effect on acidity, digestive organs and produces an increased flow of saliva and gastric juices. It is an appetizer and a home remedy for any digestive disorder or heartburn or acidity. Powdered black pepper, thoroughly mixed with malted jaggery, may be taken in the treatment of such conditions. Alternatively, a quarter teaspoon of pepper powder mixed in thin buttermilk can be taken during indigestion, acidity or heaviness in the stomach. For better results, an equal part of cumin powder may also be added to the buttermilk.
  • Tulsi (Ocimum Sanctum): Holy basil or tulsi is anti-ulcerogenic which alleviates the effect of gastric acids. Chew on five to six tulsi leaves when you suffer from acidity or take some leaves and steep them in boiling water to make a healing tea.
Ayurvedic Supplements (to be taken under physician’s guidance – Consult Now) Gas Guard

Gaisantak Bati

Ajwain Ark

Hingwastak Churna

Lavanbhaskar Churna

Diet The patient should undertake a short fast. He should drink only warm water during this period. This will help the stomach get some much-needed rest and allow the toxic condition causing the inflammation to subside. After the acute symptoms subside, the patient should adopt an all-fruit diet for the next three days and take juicy fruits like apples, pears, grapes, grapefruit, oranges, pineapple, peaches and melons. Then, he may gradually ease into a balanced diet consisting of seeds, nuts, grains, vegetables and fruit.

Patient should try to stay away from hot drinks and heating foods. It’s best not to take spicy and oily foods. The patient should avoid the use of alcohol, tobacco, spices and condiments, meat, red pepper, sour foods, pickles, strong tea and coffee. He should also skip sweets, baked treats and aerated drinks.

Lifestyle The patient should not expose himself to strenuous mental or physical work. He should avoid anxiety, worry and anger. He should be given complete rest. A walk in the early morning for about a mile is very helpful.
Yoga
  • Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana)
  • The Lotus Pose (Padmasana)
  • Knee to Chest (Apanasana)
  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
  • Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)