Doctors often link poor digestion to several different factors, such as gastrointestinal conditions or stress. Remedies to improve digestion include dietary and lifestyle changes.

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Occasional digestive problems are common, and possible causes may range from digestive disorders to specific foods. Symptoms, such as abdominal cramps or bowel changes, usually pass over time, but some simple home remedies may ease discomfort.

This article discusses possible causes of poor digestion, ways to improve digestion, how to clean the stomach, and when to consult medical attention.

The following are examples of possible causes of poor digestion.

Digestive diseases

Diseases that affect the gastrointestinal or digestive tract may cause poor digestion. A few common symptoms of digestive diseases include:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a common digestive disorder. Between 10 and 15% of adults in the United States deal with IBS symptoms.

People with IBS experience changes in bowel movements in response to stressors. These stressors may include difficult experiences in early life, mental health concerns, or bacterial infections.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are two forms of IBD. Read on for the differences between the two.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) occurs as a result of abnormal reactions of the immune system. This condition causes inflammation and ulcers on the lining of the large intestine. Approximately 600,000–900,000 people in the United States have UC.

Crohn’s disease is another digestive disorder that affects over 500,000 people in the United States. People with Crohn’s disease experience irritation and inflammation throughout the digestive tract.

Learn more about common digestive issues.

Other causes of poor digestion

  • Processed foods: Foods that are highly processed, like frozen meals or hot dogs, can negatively affect digestion. These foods can spike blood sugar and increase inflammation which may cause poor digestion.
  • Food intolerance: Intolerances may cause a person to have difficulty digesting certain foods and resulting reactions, such as bloating or diarrhea.
  • Medication: Antacids or antibiotics can also cause digestive problems. These issues are side effects, and they should resolve once a person stops taking the medication. Pain control medications also often have side effects on the gut. Opioid medications include:
  • Poor hydration: If a person does not drink sufficient water, this can lead to digestive problems like constipation. Not getting enough fluids can harden stool and reduce the number of bowel movements.
  • Stress: Elevated levels of stress levels can also negatively impact digestion. Excess stress or anxiety may lead to inflammation or diarrhea in certain cases. Stress may worsen symptoms of IBS or IBD.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes may experience high blood sugar, which may cause gastroparesis which impacts digestion.

Individuals experiencing symptoms of poor digestion should consult a medical professional to find out what may be causing it.

Individuals who experience severe or ongoing digestive problems should consult a doctor. However, for mild digestion concerns, several home remedies may ease the issues.

1. Relaxation

Many people experience stomach discomfort before an exam or a big event, but sustained stress can affect the connection between the brain and the gut, causing ongoing problems.

There is a link between physical and mental health, and reducing stress can have a positive impact on both. The American Psychological Association recommends three key ways to manage stress:

  • having a good support network
  • exercising regularly
  • getting enough sleep

It can be tempting to rush meals on a busy day, but this can cause indigestion and stomach discomfort. Take time to relax, particularly before and after eating.

2. Drink mint tea

Mint tea is a home remedy for nausea and indigestion. To make a simple mint tea:

  1. Set aside 5–10 peppermint or spearmint leaves.
  2. Boil 1 cup of water and leave it to cool slightly.
  3. Pour the water over the leaves and steep for 3–5 minutes.
  4. Add a slice of lemon or a small amount of honey, if desired.

Researchers have found that peppermint oil from the leaves may relieve symptoms of IBS — including stomach pain — in the short term. However, more research is needed to fully understand the science behind this.

3. Exercise

Gentle exercise can help support healthy digestion. Being upright and active allows gravity to help move food through the digestive system. For example, a slow walk around the block may ease bloating and reduce feelings of fullness.

Physical activity increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system, which helps move the food along the digestive tract.

4. Reduce gas

Gas can come from swallowing air when eating or drinking. The body also produces gas when digesting food. Trapped gas in the gut can cause bloating and stomach discomfort.

Having a certain amount of gas is healthful, but some activities cause a person to swallow more air than usual, which can increase the amount of gas in the body. Examples of these activities include:

  • chewing gum
  • drinking carbonated drinks
  • eating too quickly
  • wearing dentures that do not fit well

Certain foods create more gas when they go through the digestive system. These include:

Gently rubbing the belly can help gas move through the body, which can help reduce stomach discomfort and bloating.

5. Try fermented foods

Microorganisms such as bacteria have partially or wholly broken down fermented foods. These microorganisms work to preserve food, and they may also benefit gut health.

Bacteria occur naturally in the gut. Some help digest food, but others can cause problems with digestion if they are too abundant in the body. Fermented foods contain bacteria that may help support a healthy digestive system.

Some fermented foods include:

Incorporating these foods into the diet may help improve digestion. More studies are needed in the future to learn more about how fermented foods affect the gut microbiome.

Learn more about examples of fermented foods.

6. Eat more fiber

Fiber has a wide range of health benefits, from lowering cholesterol to reducing the risk of heart disease. It can also help improve digestion by regulating bowel movements.

According to theDietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025, the average adult should include around 30 grams of fiber in their daily diet.

Good sources of fiber include:

A person should also drink plenty of liquids to ensure that the fiber absorbs enough water to easily pass through the digestive system.

7. Keep a food diary

Some foods and drinks trigger problems with digestion. These triggers can vary from person to person and keeping a food diary can help with identifying culprits.

Take notes after meals, snacks, and drinks, highlighting any following digestive problems. Then, try cutting out potentially problematic foods and drinks from the diet to see whether symptoms improve.

A nutritionist can advise a person before making any significant diet changes. A food diary will also help medical professionals better understand the situation so they can offer more specific advice.

8. Avoid trigger foods

While people react differently to different foods, some foods and drinks commonly cause problems with digestion.

Examples include:

  • processed foods
  • spices
  • fried foods
  • acidic foods, such as vinegar and citrus fruits like oranges
  • sweeteners, such as fructose
  • alcohol
  • caffeine

Limiting the intake of these can help improve digestion.

Also, fast foods and ready-made meals are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats. They can be harder for the body to digest and cause problems such as constipation and gas.

A person can use various dietary methods to help clean the stomach and reduce digestive issues.

Diets

One of the best ways to promote gut health is following a balanced diet. Many studies have found that not eating a balanced diet can cause or worsen digestive problems.

Certain diet plans can help address digestive health. For example, the Mediterranean diet can help manage digestive disorders like IBS. This diet emphasizes healthy fats from fish, olive oil, whole grains, and vegetables.

Supplements and teas

Supplements and teas may also help cleanse the digestive system. One of the best natural supplements to promote digestive health is ginger. Research has shown that ginger can help reduce nausea and inflammation. Regular ginger consumption can even prevent ulcers and tumors.

Individuals dealing with digestive problems may try adding ginger into their daily routine. Brewing fresh ginger as a tea with lemon and honey can soothe the stomach and reduce inflammation. Or try adding fresh ginger to a green smoothie.

Chamomile tea delivers antioxidants and bloat-reducing properties. Tea with chamomile and honey can help naturally cleanse the stomach. But a person should be sure to consult with a doctor to make sure a new diet or supplement is right for them.

Learn about specific herbal teas for constipation.

If digestive symptoms are ongoing or severe, they may result from an underlying medical condition.

Some common digestive diseases and disorders include:

Individuals who experience symptoms associated with conditions like these should consult a doctor. Severe stomach pain, vomiting, or diarrhea may be signs of a serious health problem.

Digestion problems may be a result of stress or digestive conditions.

Mild digestive problems may respond well to at-home treatments, such as adding or removing certain foods from the diet, exercise, and keeping a food diary. However, more serious issues may require medical attention.

Anyone experiencing new or unexpected digestion problems should consult a medical professional to receive a diagnosis and suitable treatment for their symptoms.