Having an upset stomach is an uncomfortable ailment to muscle your way through. That sort of gurgling, unsettled feeling is one you want to get rid of as quickly as possible, so you turn to what you know. Many of us grew up with the go-to remedies of our parents or caregivers to make a tummy feel better, but were those methods just a placebo or something backed by science?
Nicholas Palumbo, a registered dietitian with 10 years of experience, has a simple recommendation to prevent stomachaches in the first place: chewing. Palumbo zooms out and finds that sometimes the problem can be traced back all the way to the beginning. “When you chew, obviously you’re breaking food down into smaller pieces, but the key point is that when you chew your mouth also secretes enzymes in the saliva.”
These essential workers of the body, as described by Palumbo, help to break down the food before it even reaches our stomach. If you don’t chew well enough you’re basically giving your digestive system more work to do, which can lead to indigestion.
Palumbo and Dr. Nooshin Hosseini, a gastroenterologist at Vanguard Gastroenterology and clinical assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Hospital, lent some insight into the effectiveness of the home remedies most often used to relieve an upset stomach.
Growing up, and right up until writing this article, I always thought that drinking a carbonated beverage would help settle an upset stomach. However, Dr. Hosseini says the carbonation can actually make an upset stomach a bit worse.
When your stomach hurts you might find yourself burping a lot, like your body is trying to get rid of the pressure you’re feeling inside. “A lot of times when people have an upset stomach they may have gas pains,” says Hosseini. “When you’re drinking these bubbles, you’re just introducing more air in.”
Hosseini adds that sometimes some of the minerals used to create carbonation in a particular fizzy drink can trigger reflux. So, although that glass of 7 Up feels like the right decision, it might actually prolong discomfort instead of relieving it.
When you would stay home from school because your tummy hurt, it’s likely that whoever was looking after you made sure to give you a very simple meal so as not to upset your digestion further. What we would think of as food to eat when you’re feeling sick is actually known in the medical community as the BRAT diet: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast.
Though Hosseini says you don’t necessarily need to eat those specific foods, the idea behind this diet is that it will not cause more irritation and can help replenish your body with nutrients it may have lost through diarrhea or vomiting.
However, both Palumbo and Hosseini say that refraining from eating is better than making your body work to digest even these simple foods. In some cases, you can’t beat a good rest.
While none of these remedies is a cure-all, ginger comes pretty close, considering the resounding agreement among experts on its benefits.
“Ginger is a natural antiemetic, so it does help with nausea, upset stomach… and it may help a bit with acid reflux as well,” says Hoseinni. Ginger contains chemicals that speed up contractions in the stomach, which can help to move food through the digestive process more quickly (and alleviate whatever’s bothering the digestive tract).
Palumbo also recommends ginger as a remedy for clients experiencing stomach issues. The ginger can be consumed in a tea, blended up in a smoothie, chewed as a candy, or consumed in whatever other way is preferred.
Consuming fluids is always a good idea when you’re feeling sick, but there are some specific teas that can do more than just keep you hydrated. Often, people will drink chamomile tea, as it has an overall calming effect on the body. Although chamomile is relaxing, Palumbo recommends some different teas more targeted to stomach discomfort.
Palumbo recommends kudzu mixed with apple juice. Kudzu is a root that can be dried out, turned into a powder, and reconstituted with water to achieve a sort of syrupy consistency.
“Your digestive tract, but especially in the stomach, we have a mucus lining,” says Palumbo. “That mucus lining protects the stomach walls from the acid that we produce… so if that lining gets thin, people get acid problems.”
This mucus lining turns over every two weeks, so introducing foods or drinks with certain nutrients can help to replenish it promptly. Teas that contain mucilaginous qualities—such as slippery elm and the previously mentioned kudzu drink—will assist in building up that lining and help to prevent stomach discomfort caused by acid.
Mixing lemon, baking soda, and water sounds like a super unpleasant way to relieve an upset stomach in terms of taste, but some people swear by it. Hosseini says the baking soda specifically can help to coat your esophagus and your stomach to counteract acid reflux—just be careful not to sip too much, because then you could become constipated.
Hosseini also warns against using lemon juice or apple cider vinegar diluted with water, because both the lemon and apple cider vinegar are highly acidic and actually trigger reflux. Definitely not the desired effect in this situation.
Like many over-the-counter remedies (looking at you, Pepto-Bismol), these methods all help to relieve symptoms but are not a cure. You should consult your doctor if your stomachache doesn’t subside, but in the meantime, these options are here to help you to feel better.