Probiotics may be useful in preventing festive indigestion

Christmas parties and festivities are ongoing at this time of year and this often means large meals and plenty of rich food.  Indigestion is a common side-effect of over-indulgence for many people.  Indigestion will typically occur 1-2 hours after eating and symptoms may include:

* Abdominal Pain centred in the upper abdomen
* Rumbling noises
* Excessive wind/flatulence
*A feeling of fullness, distension of the stomach or bloating

Alcohol, coffee, cigarette smoking and some pharmaceutical drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can also irritate the digestive system and cause indigestion.  During stressful situations or stressful periods of time we are also more susceptible to this complaint.

It may sound simple but chewing is really important when eating a large meal.  Chewing food properly before swallowing it really does help prevent indigestion.  Our saliva contains enzymes that start digesting food within the mouth, even before it hits the stomach.  Chewing food properly enables these enzymes to mix thoroughly with our food.  Chewing also physically breaks food up into smaller pieces which make it easier to be further broken down by our stomach acid.

Another good way to prevent indigestion is to avoid drinking a lot of fluid during a meal.  Excess liquid with a meal seems to dilute stomach acid and enzymes which digest food, making the digestive process a little less efficient.

Probiotics can help with festive indigestion
Probiotics can help with festive indigestion

A recent study (1) has found that taking a probiotic supplement is also a good way of reducing indigestion related symptoms.  The study was well designed and involved 61 adults who were given a supplement containing probiotic bacteria or a placebo (‘dummy’) pill for four weeks.  The researchers wanted to look at the effects on indigestion symptoms such as abdominal pain, distention, flatulence.  None of the participants had any diagnosed gastrointestinal diseases.

Individuals who got the probiotic supplement(1) had significant improvements in their abdominal pain scores and some improvement in their feelings of abdominal distension.  The authors of the research study conclude that the probiotic product “was effective in improving the quality of life and reducing gastrointestinal symptoms in adults with post prandial [after eating] intestinal gas-related symptoms and no GI [gastrointestinal] diagnoses”.

Taking a supplement containing prebiotics and probiotics regularly may be useful in preventing symptoms such as pain, bloating and flatulence.  These supplements are safe to take long term and have also been linked to improving many digestive complaints as well as benefiting health in other ways.

A probiotic is a supplement containing live friendly bacteria which aim to improve intestinal bacteria balance.  Probiotics are available as yoghurts, fermented milks, fortified fruit juices and freeze dried capsules/powders.  A prebiotic is a food that stimulates the growth of the beneficial bacteria already present in the colon.  Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) which can be bought as powders are the most common prebiotics available.  Natural prebiotics can be found in asparagus, onion, chicory and garlic.  Often supplements will contain both prebiotics and probiotics together and these may well be worth trying for a few weeks to see if indigestion symptoms are helped.

Take time to really enjoy your meals this Christmas.  Not rushing when eating not only adds to the enjoyment but can actually help prevent overeating since the stomach has time to send signals to the brain to indicate feelings of fullness.

(1)Kalman DS et al.  2009.  A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel-group dual site trial to evaluate the effects of a Bacillus coagulans-based product on functional intestinal gas symptoms.  BMC Gastroenterol.  18;9:85.

Written by Ani Kowal