If there were some type of national stomachache-o-meter, we would be able to hear its gears straining as it revs into peak mode right about now — where it would stay until the new year when indulgent consumption ends and we all make a stab at living spartanly for a while. But until then, there is too much pie and chocolate and cookies and cocktails that require our attention. Tough luck, stomach.
So if your middle begins to complain of your decadence and you prefer to skip the commercial tonics and tinctures and their questionable ingredients (like the red 22, red 28, saccharin, sucralose) then you can reach for a natural remedy to calm the grumpy gut. These five are tried and true, and have been helping soothe sad stomachs for centuries, if not millennia.
Counter-intuitive, I know. But a study at NYU suggests that oral use of capsaicin reduces discomfort in the stomach. In a double-blind study, individuals with dyspepsia were given either 2.5 g daily of red pepper powder (divided up and taken prior to meals) or a placebo for 5 weeks. By week three of treatment, those taking red pepper were experiencing significant improvements in pain, bloating, and nausea as compared to those taking the placebo. For treatment of dyspepsia, cayenne can be taken at a dosage of 0.5 to 1.0 g three times daily (prior to meals).
Chamomile calms the muscle of the upper digestive tract, which relaxes the contractions that transport food through the stomach and small intestines, which will lessen spasms and cramps that can cause distress. Noted integrative medicine guru, Andrew Weil, M.D., notes that, “Chamomile tea is an excellent home remedy for uncomplicated stomach upsets because it possesses anti-inflammatory and sedative properties, all of which may contribute to a lessening of abdominal discomfort.”
Ginger’s primary component is gingerol, a strong antioxidant that moonlights to decrease nausea and discomfort. Ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties increase digestive juices and neutralize stomach acids — a cure people have been using for thousands of years, and it still commonly recommended by healthcare professionals to help prevent or treat nausea and vomiting. Germany’s Commission E has even approved ginger as a treatment for indigestion and motion sickness. Make a simple ginger tea by seeping peeled and chopped ginger root in boiling water, add honey or maple syrup to sweeten and balance the spice.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, peppermint relaxes the muscles that struggle with digestive gas and improves the flow of bile, which the body uses to digest fats (take that, butter and whipped cream). In studies on using peppermint to treat IBS, mild effectiveness in the reduction of some symptoms were noted, especially flatulence and abdominal pain and distension. Take it as tea or in natural candy form. (If your symptoms of indigestion are related to gastroesophageal reflux disease, peppermint should not be used.)
5. Fennel Seed
This is the reason that Indian restaurants serve the fennel seed mix, Mukhwas, post-supper. Fennel seed has long been used to help fight gas, cramps, acid indigestion, and help soothe spasms in the intestinal tract. It acts as a carminative, which means that it helps the body expel gas and sooth indigestion. It is also a common ingredient in “gripe water,” the traditional (and very boozy, oops) tonic used for treating colic in babies. NYU Langone Medical Center says that a typical dose of fennel is 1–1 1/2 teaspoons of seeds per day.