The Fastest Way to Relieve an Upset Stomach, According to a Dietitian
We've all suffered the occasional upset stomach—pain, bloating, belching or cramping—and oftentimes, we even know exactly why we wound up in the situation. Overdoing it with fried or high-fat meals, drinking too much alcohol or going to bed too soon after eating: any (or all) of these can cause a stomachache to pop up. Still, while we know we might be playing with fire when we reach for that extra piece of pizza—even though we're already a bit north of full—we sometimes find ourselves doing it anyway.
So when an ounce of prevention is long past being an option, what can we do to relieve an already-upset stomach? There are plenty of over-the-counter medications that offer quick relief, but these tried-and-true home remedies can also be effective go-to solutions. Here are a few different types of stomachaches, plus easy ways to help find relief for each.
If it's bloating and gas: Sip some seltzer.
People commonly assume that carbonated beverages are a leading cause of painful bloating, but that's not necessarily true for everyone. Carbonation often makes us burp, and burping is the fastest way to alleviate stomach pain and upper-abdominal bloating caused by too much trapped gas. (Remember those Alka-Seltzer commercials from the 1970s with the famous "plop, plop, fizz, fizz" tagline?) I became aware of this home remedy early in my career from a patient who insisted that sipping Champagne really helped her alleviate her occasional bloating. A subsequent review of the medical literature confirmed that carbonated drinks can indeed be helpful for some people with dyspepsia—aka uncomfortable indigestion. But for most of us, seltzer will do the trick just fine.
If it's acid reflux: Try baking soda in water.
Got acid indigestion and you've run out of antacids? Try mixing ½ teaspoon of baking soda with 4 ounces of water for a homemade antacid tonic that should help neutralize acid reflux within minutes. Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, chemically reacts to acids on contact, neutralizing them and producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Antacids don't stop acid reflux per se, but they help make sure that the pH of the reflux is non-acid, which should make it a whole lot less painful.
Related: Natural Ways to Prevent Heartburn
If it's nausea: Chew on ginger.
Ginger root is one of the better-studied natural remedies for stomach upset, particularly nausea. It's been tested and shown effective to relieve nausea in pregnancy, chemotherapy patients and people experiencing nausea and vomiting after surgery. This suggests that less tenacious forms of nausea from your dietary indiscretions should be no match for ginger's antiemetic powers. Its efficacy for abdominal pain and/or nausea seems to derive from a compound called gingerol, which has antispasmodic and muscle-relaxing effects.
You can get ginger in the form of tea, ginger chews, real ginger ale or ginger extract supplements— though without standardized dosing, you may need to experiment with what an effective form and dose is for you. Research suggests that 1 gram of ginger root may be a therapeutic dose. If you take medications with a blood-thinning effect, consult your doctor before supplementing with concentrated ginger extract.
If it's over-fullness: Find some fennel.
If you frequented Indian restaurants pre-pandemic, you may have noticed that many offered candy dishes filled with brightly colored little candied nuggets by the exit. These may have been candy-coated fennel seeds, traditionally used as a natural digestif to alleviate indigestion or bloating—particularly from overeating. Fennel is a vegetable in the same botanical family as carrots and parsley, and its licorice-flavored seeds have long been associated with alleviating post-meal bloating.
Chewing fennel seeds and sipping fennel tea are common remedies in some Asian cultures, whereas heating herbal poultices with fennel and applying them on the skin has been part of traditional Chinese medicine. Candied fennel seeds and fennel teas are widely available for purchase online. Fennel-derived colic remedies may pose a safety issue for infants and should not be used without a green light from your child's pediatrician.
Like many traditional remedies, fennel hasn't been studied much in a scientifically controlled manner in human subjects, though the literature is full of studies of the digestive effects of fennel oil added to cow and broiler chicken feed and rat and guinea pig chow. But a few randomized, controlled human studies in China have investigated various fennel preparations—both ingested as tea (5 g of fennel seed in about ½ cup of boiling water) as well via "heated fennel therapy" (500 g of fennel, heated in a microwave, wrapped in a towel and placed on the belly)—as effective remedies to promote gastrointestinal motility following abdominal surgery compared to control groups. The authors of the heated fennel therapy study hypothesized that even just inhaling the volatile organic molecules from fennel could have played a role in facilitating gastrointestinal motility without need to ingest the fennel itself.
While time might just be what you need to find relief from an uncomfortable stomachache, there are plenty of science-backed strategies you can try out to help you find relief faster. Whether it's acid reflux or nausea causing your stomachache, bloating or a general feeling of being too full, try out these helpful tips for easing your upset stomach.