Fatigue, stomach cramps or heartburn plague many people after eating.
Here is what you can do about it.
Digestion already begins in the mouth. The teeth crush every bite into small pieces. At the same time, the salivary glands produce their enzyme-rich secretion. In this way, the first food ingredients are already roughly split, the bites made soft and easy to swallow.
Through the esophagus, they slide into the stomach. There, the second stage of digestion takes place with the help of stomach acid. Like a grinder, the lower part of the stomach, the antrum, minces the meat with intense muscular movements.
Nutrients Are Transferred From the Digestive Tract to the Bloodstream
In small portions, the food finally arrives – up to five hours after the meal – through the pylorus into the duodenum. Enzymes from the pancreas, as well as bile from the liver and gallbladder, attack the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, and divide them in such a way that the body can absorb them into the bloodstream and recover them. Only then does the food slip through the small intestine into the large intestine, where billions of bacteria will split the final remnants.
A good meal is for most people, however, far more than the intake of vital food ingredients – in nice company, it can be a highlight of the day. However, sometimes, unpleasant sensations may occur, which can even be agonizing.
Unusual Symptoms Should be Checked
Many people complain of a massive feeling of bloating, heartburn, or pain in the upper abdomen after a more or less lavish meal. Cramps are particularly unpleasant, as they often persist for minutes. Some people already know these symptoms because they have been sensitive for a long time or because they know they have eaten too much, too hastily or too much fat.
“When such symptoms occur for the first time and are unusual, the doctor should be consulted,” advises the gastroenterologist Professor Joachim Erckenbrecht, who works at the Clinic for Internal Medicine within Florence Nightingale Hospital of Dusseldorf, as well as in a private practice. This is particularly true if more worrying symptoms develop, such as bloody vomiting or black stool. That is an emergency which needs an immediate check-up.
Causes of Stomach Discomfort
Stomach pressures can have many causes. “There is an organic cause behind some of the affected people, such as gastric ulcer, reflux esophagitis, pancreatic gland disease,” warns Erckenbrecht.
If the stomach produces more acid than the mucous membrane can tolerate, inflammation occurs within the stomach wall. Medicines such as layer silicates bind excess acid, while H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors reduce acid production. Self-medication should not take more than 14 days. If the symptoms persist, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
The stomach germ Helicobacter pylori can also be responsible for ailments such as these, and, in the worst case, can cause stomach ulcer. Antibiotics prescribed by the doctor can kill this germ and, afterward, the symptoms usually disappear.
Stress Can Cause Abdominal Pain
In many cases, however, the psyche also plays a not-insignificant role. After all, the entire digestion process is controlled by a dense network of 100 billion nerve cells, which surrounds the entire gastrointestinal tract and is in direct contact with the brain.
The enteric nervous system, as is the term for this “belly brain,” independently controls all processes of digestion, stimulates the organ musculature and processes the signals of the receptors. Gastroenterologist Erckenbrecht stated that “we [he and his students] have investigated the frequency and intensity of medical students’ complaints of belly pain every six months and one week before the state examinations.”
The result was hardly surprising: immediately before the examination, the number and the intensity of functional dyspepsia symptoms, i.e. those without organic causes, increased dramatically. However, with many people, the symptoms occur without stress. Irregular or hectic meals can trigger them as well as nicotine, medication or too much alcohol. This gets the gastrointestinal musculature out of line. Why, however, some people cannot tolerate sour or sweet food isn’t precisely known. Frequently, there are intolerances to certain food ingredients, which lead to bloating and abdominal pain in many patients.
Fat-rich Foods Linger Long in the Stomach
An enzyme deficiency can sometimes be the cause. In this case, the food cannot be metabolized well. Bacteria then attack the foodstuffs and build them into intestinal gases.
Sometimes it is also allergies that lead to problems within the gastrointestinal tract. The affected person usually only has to avoid the problematic foods consistently. Very fat-rich foods are problematic for most people: because fats stay the longest in the stomach, the pressure on the stomach wall takes longer than with other meals. In addition, the gastric muscular stretching is even more intense after a fat-rich meal. In the case of disorders of the pancreas or concerning bile production, fats can no longer be properly metabolized.
Coffee Can Aid Digestion
If you drink alcohol while eating, it is not necessarily good, because that can slow down the digestion process. In small quantities, the consumption of alcohol – for example as an aperitif – improves the digestion process, but only sometimes.
Alcohol has a muscle-relaxing effect and thus increases the stomach’s food absorption capacity. In addition, it stimulates the formation of acid and gastric protective layers. This applies, however, only for very small quantities, for example, a glass of beer or wine. Other spirits, on the other hand, are not very helpful. The popular espresso after a rich meal can also be helpful – coffee stimulates the blood circulation and the gastrointestinal tract, and that, in turn, makes you feel fitter after eating.
How to Prevent Stomach Discomfort
Anyone who suffers from an overproduction of gastric acid should refrain from alcohol and coffee, which also stimulates acid production. Peppermint oil or a piece of peppermint chocolate can help to stimulate digestion in this case.
Pharmaceutical herbal products can also support the gastrointestinal tract sensibly. Alternatively, digestive aids help against flatulence, while butylscopolamine solutions help with cramps. Better still: reduce stress, eat slowly and small portions, and, last but not least, chew well. Because the process of digestion already starts within the mouth.