8 Natural Remedies for Stomach Pain
When tummy troubles flare, it can be tough to know the best course of action for relief. Though you may reach for an over-the-counter medication as a matter of course to quell stomach pain, many common drugstore meds can come with drawbacks. Antacids can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb important nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamin B12, and NSAID painkillers can actually irritate the lining of the stomach, doing more harm than good. For mild to moderate stomach pain — especially the kind caused by overeating or run-of-the-mill acid indigestion — perhaps it’s best to try a natural remedy as a first line of defense.
Still, how do you know which foods, oils, or supplements to trust? A number of folk remedies supposedly relieve stomach pain (my mother-in-law swears by McDonald’s ice cream cones), but before you spend your money, it’s best to determine what’s based on evidence. We dug into the research and chatted with Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, Chief Medical Advisor for MegaFood, natural medicine expert, and author of Healthy at Home, to get the scoop on eight natural stomach pain remedies that really work.
1. Peppermint Oil: Peppermint has more to offer than flavoring Christmas candy canes. It can actually serve as a powerful analgesic. “The volatile oils and compounds like menthol that give peppermint its wonderful aroma relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, while increasing the flow of bile from the gallbladder, helping your body to more effectively digest fatty foods,” says Dr. Low Dog. (It makes sense now why restaurants provide peppermints as an after-dinner treat, right?) Look for enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules at your local health food store — or, for acute incidents of stomach pain, try rubbing a peppermint essential oil directly on your belly.
2. Licorice Root: First peppermint, and now licorice? We’re sensing a candy theme here. There’s a catch, though: Medicinal licorice root bears little similarity to the chewy sticks you remember from your trick-or-treating hauls. Known by its scientific name Glycyrrhiza glabra, licorice root is actually a legume that grows in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Among its many healing properties is its ability to suppress the H. pylori bacteria that cause peptic ulcers. For stomach pain relief, you can get licorice root in capsules known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL. (But not, unfortunately, in Twizzlers.) “DGL can be safely taken long term,” says Dr. Low Dog. “To use licorice to treat heartburn, chew 1-2 tablets about 20 minutes before each meal.”
3. Ginger: If you’ve ever been pregnant, you may have discovered the power of tucking a few ginger chews into your purse to combat unexpected bouts of morning sickness. Ginger has been recognized since ancient times for its calming effects on the stomach, and more recent studies verify its ability to combat nausea and vomiting. When these complaints accompany stomach pain, try making a ginger tea by steeping a chunk of fresh ginger in hot water. Or (for the truly brave) scoop up to 1/8 teaspoon of ginger powder out of the spice container and eat it straight. “Dried ginger is a more potent antiemetic [vomit preventer] than fresh ginger,” notes Dr. Low Dog, “although both can ease bloating and indigestion.”
4. Chamomile Tea: “Anti-inflammatory” is a popular buzzword these days when it comes to diet. As it turns out, anti-inflammatory foods aren’t just good for your heart and brain; they can help your stomach too. One such anti-inflammatory is chamomile tea. “Chamomile soothes, protects, and eases spasms in the stomach and intestines,” Dr. Low Dog tells us. “It’s also a nice calmative, making you feel a little better when you’re feeling bad.” To guarantee effectiveness, look for a tea with a “Supplement Facts” panel listing the amount of chamomile in milligrams.
5. Aloe Juice: Another anti-inflammatory with a long history of medicinal use, the juice of the aloe vera plant can be one more weapon in your arsenal against digestive discomfort. A 2015 study found aloe juice to be an effective and safe treatment for symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Small doses of decolorized and purified aloe juice are generally recommended for beginners.
6. Heat: As old-school as it may sound, simply applying heat can go a long way toward unwinding knots in your belly. Stomach pain is often caused by reduced blood flow, and since heat causes blood vessels to dilate, a nice warm heating pad doesn’t just make you feel all comfy-cozy — it can actually promote pain relief.
7. Meditation: Can you “om” your way out of indigestion? It’s certainly possible! Meditation is a well-established means of tapping into the mind-body connection to counteract pain. Try a guided visualization specifically for stomach pain, or ground yourself in the present moment with a mindfulness meditation.
8. Probiotics: Some natural remedies for stomach pain kick in almost immediately, while others work more preventively. Probiotics fall into this latter category. Over time, when the digestive tract isn’t stocked with the right amount of good bacteria, tummy troubles can result. “Probiotics are one way to restore and maintain a healthy microbiome,” Dr. Low Dog agrees. “There is a very large and growing body of evidence that probiotics may help gastrointestinal infections and antibiotic-induced diarrhea.”
Finally, it’s important to note that not all stomach pain can or should be treated with natural remedies. According to Dr. Low Dog, you should seek medical attention if your stomach pain is severe, or if you experience heartburn accompanied by pain in the neck, jaw, arms, or legs, bloody vomit, shortness of breath, weakness, an irregular pulse, or sweating.
(Photos via Getty)
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