The digestive tract includes the oral cavity, oesophagus, stomach, duodenum, small intestine, large intestine and ends with the rectum at the anus. Digestions starts in the mouth with mechanical grinding and insalivation. In the stomach, chewed chyme is ground up further, mixed and permeated with gastric juice. Gastric juice, which is often referred to as gastric acid, consists of water, enzymes and hydrochloric acid. Gastric juice especially breaks down protein which we mainly consume as meat, cheese and legumes. Furthermore, the acidic gastric juices act as a disinfectant.
Everyone can relate to gastrointestinal problems
We say, "Something has upset my stomach" …, if we have gastrointestinal problems. 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. Sometimes it is accompanied by nausea and vomiting. It can be stabbing, aching or with cramps. There are many causes of stomach pain – it is not always easy to differentiate whether the pain originates in the stomach region or in the intestine. You can read below about what happens in the stomach after eating, how stomach pain develops, what you can do to prevent it and which home remedies you can use to help yourself.
What happens in the stomach?
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. Therefore the proverb: "You should chew your food properly!" And the rule of thumb: The fattier the food, the longer it is retained in the stomach!
Retention time of food in the stomach
|Lean boiled fish, rice||1.5 hours|
|Vegetables, milk, pudding, bread||2 to 2.5 hours|
|Boiled meat||3 hours|
|Fried meat||4 to 6 hours|
|Fatty meat, sardines in oil||8 hours and longer|
How and why does stomach pain occur?
Stomach pain and other digestive disorders can have widely differing causes. You can find a few examples below:
Gastritis is inflammation of the gastric mucosa. This means: The mucus layer inside the stomach that protects other cells from the aggressive stomach acid is inflamed and can no longer adequately ensure its protective function. Acute gastritis mainly causes severe stomach pain – also independently of mealtimes. It is frequently accompanied by symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. The causes can be extremely varied. Infections are as likely as spoiled food, poor diet, too much alcohol or nicotine, stress or certain medications.
Stomach pain caused by infections with pathogens is usually associated with symptoms such as nausea, retching and vomiting, but sometimes flu-like symptoms such as fever and pain in the limbs also occur. Usually, rapid help from a doctor is needed.
An unhealthy diet or poor eating habits with rushing and food and drinks that are too hot, too cold, too fatty or too sweet, but also meals that are too lavish and food that is difficult to digest can cause stomach pain.
Hypersensitivity of the nervous system can cause a nervous stomach, pain or cramps: If the nerves in the gastrointestinal tract react very sensitively, digestive processes and motility of the stomach can be disrupted and result in pain.
Symptoms such as bloating, heartburn and nausea can be an indication of a so-called irritable stomach. Doctors speak of functional dyspepsia. The triggers are primarily mental stress and unhealthy eating habits, which when coupled with hereditary factors result in upset stomachs in sensitive people. The so-called irritable bowel syndrome has similar causes.
Bloating, pot belly
Too much gas in the gastrointestinal tract is a frequent cause of pain. Then we speak of flatulence. This occurs when food tends to produce or release a lot of gas, such as carbonated beverages, whipped desserts, and the like. Also certain foods generate a lot of gas when they are broken down in the intestine. Sensitive people are aware of this from eating peas, onions and cabbage. Last but not least, certain bacteria in the intestinal flora produce a lot of gas during digestion. Often there is a dysbiosis. A lack of gastric juice can mean that food cannot be broken down enough and this produces a lot of gas. A lack of exercise can also cause bloating.
The associated abdominal pain is more spasmodic and is caused by bloating and excessive tension of the digestive muscles. A bloated stomach can often be seen. You should consult a doctor if your stomach problems are severe, frequently return or continue for a long time. Your doctor can clarify the causes. Which medications or other measures are appropriate depends on their diagnosis.
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
- 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 stomach pain and bloating?
As with all cramp-like symptoms, warmth is the best home remedy. A hot water bottle, hot cherry stone pillow or also spelt pillow may have a relaxing and pain-relieving effect. A hot bath is usually found to be pleasant. In addition to this, drink a hot fennel, chamomile, caraway or mint tea.
A "rollkur" [alternative therapy in which the patient drinks e.g. herbal tea and then, lying down, rolls over at intervals on to their other side] is one of the most popular ancient home remedies for stomach ulcers.
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®.