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"Something has upset my stomach"

... is what we say if our tummy is rumbling. An upset stomach commonly occurs after eating and may become noticeable as stomach cramps, heartburn or also bloating. It can also occur independently of eating and is caused by stress, inflammation or infections.

What happens in the stomach?

The digestive tract includes the oral cavity, oesophagus, stomach, duodenum, small intestine, large intestine and ends with the anus. Chewed food is ground up and thoroughly mixed with gastric juice in the stomach. Gastric juice, which is often referred to as stomach acid, consists of water, enzymes and hydrochloric acid among other things. Gastric juice primarily breaks down protein which we consume as meat, cheese and legumes. Furthermore, the acidic gastric juices act as a disinfectant.

How long is food retained in the stomach?

The stomach moves itself in waves around 3 times a minute to thoroughly knead the food. How long the stomach needs to prepare the food for further digestion in the intestine depends on how well it was prepared in the mouth and the composition of the food.

Rule of thumb: The fattier the food, the longer it is retained in the stomach!

Retention time of food in the stomach

fluidsseveral minutes
Lean boiled fish, rice1.5 hours
Vegetables, milk, pudding, bread        2 to 2.5 hours
Boiled meat3 hours
Fried meat4 to 6 hours
Fatty meat, sardines in oil8 hours and longer

Why do you get an upset stomach?

Too much gas in the gastrointestinal tract is a frequent cause of an upset stomach: Flatulence. The associated abdominal pain is more spasmodic and is caused by bloating and excessive tension of the digestive muscles. The bloating can often be seen.

But of course there are also other causes: Inflammation of the gastric mucosa (gastric ulcer, gastritis), infections with pathogens, lack of gastric acid, poor eating habits with a lot of stodgy food or nervousness with irritable stomach.

The upset stomach is usually associated with nausea, retching and vomiting with infections.

Some gas in the abdomen is alright, but too much hurts

Gas in the gastrointestinal tract is perfectly natural: In fact, carbon dioxide gas is formed in the stomach. Bacteria in the bowel produce gases such as methane, hydrogen and nitrogen during digestion. We also swallow air while eating, drinking or even speaking.

An excessive build-up of gas in the gastrointestinal region may be caused by

  • Stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Eating certain foods

Too much gas in the stomach can give rise to heartburn, indigestion, feeling of fullness and stomach cramps. Gas accumulating in the lower section of the gut may cause bloating and intestinal cramping.

How can you prevent an upset stomach and feeling of fullness?

If you are prone to upset stomachs and a feeling of fullness, you should pay attention to the following:

  • Avoid very fatty foods and preferably eat small portions.
  • Alcohol and nicotine can also cause an upset stomach.
  • Eat slowly and appreciatively: By chewing for longer, the food is ground down more so that the stomach has less work to do.
  • Avoid food that causes flatulence which could cause you to suffer from bloating. Which foods these are varies from individual to individual – usually legumes, garlic, onions and cabbages but also beer and water with carbonic acid.
  • If necessary, seek advice from a nutritionist to discuss your dietary habits and to find a suitable diet for you.
  • Learning and practising relaxation exercises can help with stress-related symptoms and an irritable stomach.
  • Use the stimulating effect of bitter substances on digestion before eating (aperitif, bitter salad as a starter).

What helps counter an upset stomach and bloating?

As with all spasmodic disorders, warmth may help to relieve pain. Therefore, a hot water bottle or a hot bath often feels pleasant.
Many plants are suitable for relieving digestive disorders.
Particularly popular remedies are extracts of:

  • Peppermint leaves
  • Chamomile blossom
  • Caraway fruit

These are contained in the herbal drug Pascoventral®.