Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Anna Simon, BS, Ellen M. Martin
Gastrointestinal (GI) issues are common symptoms of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, especially IBD (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis) and irritable bowel syndrome. Even healthy people experience stomach issues from factors such as food intolerances, stress, hormones, and dehydration. Although the GI tract contains not just the stomach but also the mouth, esophagus, duodenum, small and large intestines, rectum and anus, we are using the term stomach to refer to any GI symptoms. Most “stomach pains” also occur in the duodenum and small and large intestines. We want you to feel like your best self, so we did the research on how lifestyle, food, and movement can affect your GI tract. Here are our best tips to reduce stomach pain and bloating:
Stress and anxiety can cause stomach pain or exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms caused by other conditions. Meditation relaxes your body and calms your nerves, which may help reduce your stomach pain and/or bloating.
Mindful deep breathing exercises (e.g., diaphragmatic breathing, pranayama) have direct positive impacts on GI issues that you can test and feel within minutes, although best results come after a few weeks of regular daily practice. Start with 10 minutes a day and increase as needed.
Take a warm bath
Applying heat via a warm bath or a heating pad directly on the stomach can help ease your GI pain. Heat reduces pain by relaxing muscles and increasing blood flow.
Massage your stomach
Massaging your stomach can help relieve GI symptoms – including bloating, cramps, and pressure – by helping move stool along. Start on the right side just above your hip bone, move up to your ribs, then across your stomach and down to the left hip bone. Follow these more detailed instructions to give yourself an abdominal massage.
Avoid chewing gum
Chewing gum can cause you to swallow more air than usual, which could cause stomach bloating. Similarly, using straws can do the same thing, so ditch the straw and drink straight from the cup.
Avoid inflammatory foods
Inflammatory foods increase inflammation throughout the body, tend to exacerbate disease symptoms, and can lead to gastrointestinal issues. These foods include processed meats, sodas and sugary beverages, salty snacks, packaged sweets, and refined carbohydrates.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods
On the other hand, anti-inflammatory foods help to reduce inflammation in the body and may reduce unsavory gastrointestinal symptoms; these are therefore the foods you should focus on including in your diet. Luckily, there are many anti-inflammatory foods, including turmeric, ginger, green leafy vegetables, berries, flax and chia seeds, walnuts and almonds, olive oil, and salmon. Test these out on yourself; some people find ginger or tumeric makes their GI symptoms worse. If any food seems to exacerbate your guts, put it on your elimination diet list for testing.
It is clear that foods have a direct effect on stomach pain and bloating. However, it is difficult to sort through all the nutritional information on the Internet and to understand what works for your body specifically. Check out our post on how to navigate food in our digital world here. Through our research, we have found food tips and specific foods that tend to help ease various GI symptoms.
- Try to cut out FODMAPs, long-chain carbohydrate containing foods that can be difficult to digest and may cause digestive discomfort. A low-FODMAP diet is typically suggested for patients suffering from IBS, but anyone can use this diet to isolate personal trigger foods.
- Gradually increase fiber intake to help keep your digestive tract moving. Although fiber is beneficial for digestion, too much can cause excess gas in the stomach, so it is recommended to introduce additional fiber slowly in order to help ease your body into it.
- Keeping your body on a consistent routine by eating meals around the same time every day, eating smaller meals, and eating only until you feel full can minimize stomach pain.
- Keep a food diary – write down everything you eat and pay attention to your body’s reaction to it immediately and over the next 48 hours. This will help you eat mindfully and figure out which foods work or don’t work for your body.
- Ginger has both anti-inflammatory and stomach-calming effects.¹ It has been widely used for thousands of years to treat GI disorders and issues like nausea and menstrual pain.
- Peppermint has been shown to improve IBS symptoms and abdominal pain.² Drink peppermint tea or take peppermint oil capsules to activate an anti-pain channel in the colon and soothe your stomach. However, peppermint can lead to heartburn, so you may want to avoid mint if you suffer from acid reflux.
- Probiotics and fermented foods – like kimchi, kefir, and miso – have been shown by some studies to promote good digestion.³ Although current research on probiotics is somewhat inconclusive, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate fermented foods into your diet.
- Limit sodium, which can cause excessive water retention and bloating. To combat bloating from excess salt, drink water to flush it out of your system and eat foods that contain potassium, which increases sodium output in urine.
Check out our guide to food therapy to learn more about nutrition and how to experiment with food as therapy.
Additionally, it’s always a good idea to avoid soda, sugary drinks, and alcohol, opting for plain water instead. Carbonated drinks like soda add air to your stomach and may make you feel bloated. Water, on the other hand, is important for keeping your GI system running smoothly and promoting good digestion. Caffeine can be useful for getting your bowels moving if you suffer from constipation. If you drink caffeine or other acidic beverages like orange juice, be sure to rinse your mouth out with water to counteract dental erosion. Check out our other diet tips for a healthy mouth here.
Get some morning exercise
Starting your day with some movement can help get the digestive system going: take a walk, do some yoga, or stretch (which can be more beneficial than you think). Exercising in the morning jump starts your metabolism and increases blood flow and circulation.
Yoga poses can release gas buildup in the stomach. Certain poses, like Apanasana or knees-to-chest, relax your muscles, reduce pressure, and calm your nervous system.
Relax your body
Try an active movement designed to reduce stress and promote relaxation such as Tai Chi & Qi Gong. If you prefer a less active movement, try breathing exercises or meditation to relax your system. There are so many different ways to move your body, but it is important to find the right therapy cocktail for your body. Our guide to movement therapy can help you on this journey.
We hope these tips help you reduce stomach pain and bloating and feel ready to conquer the day. What do you do to soothe your stomach? Let us know in the comments!
- Ghayur, M.N. & Gilani, A.H. Dig Dis Sci (2005) 50: 1889. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-005-2957-2
- Khanna, R et al. “Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 2014. 48(6):505-512. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/24100754
- Parvez, S et al. “Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health.” Journal of Applied Microbiology. 2006. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2672.2006.02963.x