When I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it was never just fatigue. In the early months of my illness, I had bouts of nausea and acid reflux. This developed into long-term gastritis, stomach pain, and a slew of other digestive issues.
Initially, I went the standard medical route for treatment. I saw countless doctors, tried pharmaceutical drugs, and had tests done on my stomach. They couldn’t find any root cause to my symptoms, and medications only made it worse. At my last appointment, they told me I could try painkillers, but there was nothing else they could do.
With my medical options exhausted, I decided to try natural remedies for stomach problems. I wasn’t ready to give up on my health, and I knew that natural options wouldn’t have the drastic side effects that I so dreaded in new medications. I started sifting through natural websites, trying to decide what was snake oil and what might actually work.
Over the next few months, my symptoms gradually improved. I started being able to eat regular meals again, and I gained back some of the 20 lbs I’d dropped due to malnourishment.
A year later, I’m able to enjoy food again—even desserts and restaurants! I still have a sensitive stomach, but I feel like I know how to manage and care for it. Stomach pain no longer rules my life.
Here’s what I used—and continue to use—to get my stomach issues under control.
Licorice tea is my first line of defense against stomach pain and reflux. I drink it when I first notice a flair-up of pain, and it usually gives me immediate relief. Licorice root has been used for centuries as a digestive aid. It’s proven to reduce swelling and increase the body’s natural defenses against stomach irritations. Licorice tea is an easy and highly effective remedy for heartburn, indigestion, gastritis, IBS, and even ulcers. I recommend it as a first natural remedy for people with stomach issues, because it can alleviate almost any problem, and it’s very unlikely to make you feel worse.
Although licorice is a natural and safe remedy, it’s not recommended to drink licorice tea every day for more than two weeks, as it can raise blood pressure and lower potassium levels. I drank it more frequently at the beginning of my healing journey, and now maybe once or twice a week as needed.
My favorite brand is Yogi Tea’s Egyptian Licorice. It’s naturally sweet and has a touch of cinnamon. I always have it in my bag—just in case!
When my heartburn and gastritis were at their worst, I started wondering if I might have an underlying infection. As I researched my condition, I learned that the bacteria H. pylori can cause stomach irritation, reflux, and even ulcers. It’s extremely common (2/3 of the world’s population has it, usually without symptoms), and it loves when your stomach produces less acid. Since I experienced an influx of symptoms on acid-lowering reflux medication, I decided to try some natural remedies for killing H. pylori.
First, I tried oregano oil, which is antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic. Basically, whether you’re dealing with candida, worms, an infection, or a stomach virus, oregano can help you out. I started taking 5-10 drops every night before bed, and I noticed reduced symptoms especially in the morning. However, I’m not going to lie, this stuff tastes terrible. I always brushed my teeth immediately after taking it. Straight-up oil is most potent, but you may want to try out capsules if you’re sensitive to tastes.
Although I was pretty happy with oregano oil, I bought some mastic gum on a whim after reading about its powers against H. pylori. I am so glad I did! I had much more dramatic results with mastic gum, and I credit it towards putting my reflux and gastritis into remission. Mastic gum comes from tree resin, and has been used for centuries to treat ulcers and indigestion. It’s also clinically proven to wipe out H. pylori in 5 weeks in most patients. I had some stomach irritation while I was using it, but after going through the recommended dosage, I felt amazing. I was also amused to discover that it made all of my gas smell like pine trees. All part of the natural healing process!
Identifying High or Low Stomach Acid
Most people who have acid reflux assume they have too much stomach acid—and they may be right. However, some people with reflux symptoms actually have stomach acid levels that are too low. Low acid levels make it difficult for the stomach to digest food. This can cause the contents of the stomach to fester and slide back up the esophagus. As I mentioned above, it also creates a breeding ground for H. pylori and other infections.
If you suspect you have low acid, you can try adding fresh squeezed lemon to your water or drinking a cup of green tea after a meal. Both will aid in digestion. You can also try taking digestive enzymes.
If you truly have high acid, you’ll probably feel better staying away from acidic foods (like tomato, citrus, and coffee) and incorporating acid-taming foods like rice and steamed vegetables. You may also benefit from the FODMAP Diet.
Identifying Food Sensitivities
Along with incorporating acid-adjusting foods to your diet, you may want to get tested for food sensitivities. Unlike allergy testing, the only way of knowing if you’re sensitive to a food is to remove it from your diet and see if you feel better. Some people do a full-fledged elimination diet, in which they remove all but a few foods and then reintroduce them one by one to see if they trigger any pain. This is a surefire way to spot a food sensitivity, but it’s a pretty big commitment. I simply kept track of meals that caused me discomfort, and then slowly pieced together what food groups seemed to cause the most pain. I discovered that dairy and red meat were the biggest culprits, and I removed them from my diet, which significantly reduced my post-meal pain.
If you have a hard time finding your food triggers, you may want to use a food diary for a few weeks to track your meals and pain levels. Then you can easily identify patterns and not have to second guess yourself.
I’ve always noticed health benefits when I take probiotics or eat fermented foods. When my belly is full of good bacteria, my energy and mental health almost always improve. Good bacteria is also essential to digestion, in both the stomach and intestines. It protects the gut from invaders (like H. pylori and candida), and it breaks down food into bioavailable nutrients. When good bacteria are lost due to broad spectrum antibiotics, poor diet, or chronic illness, the whole digestive system is crippled.
When my stomach started taking a serious downturn, I had a hard time digesting the probiotic capsules I used to take. So I started experimenting with more fermented foods. I made my own beet kvass, sauerkraut, and kimchi, which I started craving nonstop. I found that liquids were the easiest for my stomach to manage, so I started drinking raw organic kombucha on a regular basis. That made a noticeable difference, and I still use it to keep my bacteria levels up. I find kombucha especially helps me when I’m feeling nauseated and lose my appetite. It’s like ginger ale, but with super-powered microorganisms in it!
I buy GT’s Gingeraid Kombucha, but it’s also pretty easy to brew your own at home (and I plan to start doing that soon).
Stress can play a major role in stomach problems. Our bodies are designed to be in one of two modes: flight/flight or rest/digest. When we’re under stress, our bodies produce adrenaline to make us alert and focused. Although it helps us survive a fast-paced work environment, too much adrenaline can effectively shut down the digestive system. I learned this the hard way when I was working twelve hour days and getting up all night with a baby. My stomach didn’t have enough rest/digest time, and my whole body paid the price.
In order for your stomach to heal itself and properly digest food, your nervous system has to be in rest mode. To achieve this, you may need to scale back on your commitments, or incorporate some stress-reducing activities into your day. Many people benefit from yoga and meditation, but you can also just listen to calming music or take a bubble bath. Whatever makes you feel safe and relaxed is best. Your body will take it from there.
Have you ever tried natural remedies for stomach problems? Which ones worked the best for you? Let me know your experience in the comments!
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Photo: © Elizabeth Steere