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As a child I remember having stomach aches often. My mom always gave me Pepto-Bismol, the pink tablets. This medicine coated my stomach, sometimes soothed the discomfort and almost always made me throw up, perhaps indirectly helping me to get well sooner. (Incidentally, I always thought throw up was bright pink for this reason, until I was in my late teens! Then I went to a party and helped clean up after my drunk friends and realized puke was the color of whatever you had eaten. LOL)
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Much later, I learned that bismuth, the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, is actually a heavy metal, and one of its main side effects is vomiting. (It is also a salicylate that can cause allergic reactions like asthma.)
By the way, my mom is awesome and was such a comforting person to have around when I was sick. She didn’t know any better, as most moms gave their kids Pepto-Bismol, and still do.
My dad, no less awesome, had less sympathy for sickness, because he couldn’t relate. He one time said to me, “What do you mean you have a stomach ache?” I told him: my stomach hurt. He said his stomach had never hurt in his whole life, that he could remember; he hadn’t thrown up since we was 7 years old, and he seriously did not know what it felt like. My dad’s now 89 years old and still in excellent health.
I got my mom’s GI tract. And my kids got mine. We all know quite well what stomach aches feel like, so the better question is this: what is causing the stomach ache? When we know that, we can make it better.
1. The 1st and Best Remedy: Bitters
Hands down, the best remedy for a stomach ache, whether young or old (meaning it’s safe for kids, adults, the elderly, and most invalids) is bitters. Digestive bitters come in tincture form. They’re a combination of bitter herbs that stimulate the belly to produce digestive juices. They are an amazing cure-all, and if you’ve ever wondered what’s in my “medicine cabinet”/wellness cabinet it’s one of the most important ever-present items. Amazingly, it works on most stomach aches, taking the pain away within just 2-3 minutes!
Why bitters work… For one, they help to set right the ph of the stomach, the status of which all other digestion (and thus general health) depends. Bitters stimulate the gall bladder to produce bile, which means they help to digest fat. So if you have a stomach ache from eating too much food or too much fat, bitters will help, and quickly.
But stomach aches unrelated to what we’ve eaten can also be helped by bitters. Why? By increasing the production of your stomach’s hydrochloric acid, bitters kills invasive pathogens, including viruses. The extra acidity created by bitters and needed for good digestion, therefore helps to balance the gut flora in your stomach. (In the long run, bitters help to seal and heal leaky gut, which in and of itself can cause chronic stomach aches, as undigested and caustic food particles irritate the stomach lining.)
In helping many different digestive mechanisms, bitters also stimulate the peristalsis of your intestines, thus moving along bowel movements and improving constipation. (Magnesium citrate and probiotics (or this one) can also be very helpful in cases of constipation.)
Bitters also relieve gas, bloating, heartburn and nausea.
When my son (the one who is the most like me in most ways) tells me he has a stomach ache, the first thing I do is give him bitters, one dropperful in about 2 ounces of water. 98% of the time it alleviates the pain.
This is my favorite brand of Digestive Bitters, the one I use for the kids. I buy this Gentian for myself, because it’s a fruit-free bitter (and I don’t digest fruit well). One dropperful is the dosage I use for stomach aches, stirred into 2 ounces of water.
2. Slippery Elm
For an upset stomach, diarrhea, IBS, or leaky gut slippery elm (I’ve discussed it before) is excellent for soothing and bringing fast relief. It’s been used by native people groups for hundreds of years to calm the gut.
Slippery elm contains mucilage, which is a gel-like polysaccharide. This substance coats the intestines and gives the herb its name. For those who may lack adequate mucosal lining, due to leaky gut, slippery elm provides this protective barrier.
In powder form I recommend buying it here in bulk. Slippery elm is palatable and can be stirred into warm water. You can add honey or another natural sweetener, if desired. I use 2 Tablespoons powder stirred into about 4 ounces of water, for stomach aches.
Slippery elm also comes in liquid tincture form, which can be quite convenient, because it’s ready to go and soothing instantly, even to the esophagus. Here’s the one I buy. Up to 60 drops can be used for a stomach ache, although I use 30 drops for the kids.
Aloe as a supplement takes two forms, so be sure to get the liquid form that treats stomach aches, not the powdered leaf that relieves constipation but can sometimes cause stomach cramping.
Liquid aloe, like this one, is used to relieve indigestion, nausea, heartburn and actual pain in the stomach. It coats and repairs, starting in the esophagus. I laugh at myself a bit, because I actually love and look forward to drinking aloe. It’s quite soothing and just a bit viscous. You can feel it coating your throat immediately and it keeps on soothing right down into the stomach, providing immediate comfort.
Fresh aloe (do you have an aloe plant?), although bitter, is also high in Vitamin C, so when consumed in a smoothie with collagen, for example, helps to rebuild the gut lining. And it reduces inflammation. This brand is almost flavorless and tastes similar to water. The dosage is 2 ounces.
Each of these remedies can be used on a daily basis for gut repair and wellness; but as this article states, they can be used for acute stomach pain as well. We have found each of these remedies to provide immediate relief for most stomach aches.
Check Your Diet
Is there a food that your body doesn’t digest well? Or perhaps more than one food? Be willing to give these up to enjoy optimum health. I’ve often seen parents unwilling to deprive their children of a “normal” childhood; so they continue to give their kids foods that cause stomach aches.
Perhaps because I’ve been really sick, on death’s door, and seen my kids through low lows of health, I can not relate to this approach. Frankly, our stomachs are our good friends, willing to communicate truths we are wise to listen to. (And would you abuse a friend?) If a certain food gives you a stomach ache, it is not true that you will “outgrow that allergy” by continuing to eat it. Conversely, the symptom of stomach pain may go away, but a deeper problem can result: inflammation. By listening to our stomachs now we are avoiding greater sickness and healthcare bills in the future.
Common stomach irritants include dairy, gluten (Celiac Disease is also often marked by extended diarrhea and weight loss), legumes (including soy), grains (including corn), yeast, eggs, nuts, nightshades, chocolate, MSG, sulfites, salicylates, artificial food coloring and processed foods. But many other foods can cause discomfort, foods like citrus. If meat causes stomach pain, be sure to increase the stomach’s ph. An acidic stomach is required to digest proteins (and any large meals).
Of course, there are many ways to overcome food sensitivities, but for the purpose of this post it’s key to mention that eating the offending foods is not helpful. Here are a few posts to get you started if you have foods you need to temporarily eliminate but hope to reintroduce later: one, two, three.
Honorable Mention~ Activated Charcoal
The reason I don’t list this remedy in the top 3 is that I find most cases of stomach aches don’t resolve with this remedy. It is really only for use in a couple of situations: diarrhea and food poisoning. Both excellent reasons to reach for your first aid kit, I do keep activated charcoal on hand. And we’ve seen it work wonders. But it’s not a remedy to reach for as often. If used for a stomach ache that is not related to diarrhea or food poisoning, activated charcoal can create constipation and lengthen the time it takes for the body to feel well.
When used for diarrhea or food poisoning, activated charcoal binds to symptom-creating toxins and ushers them out of the system, while also slowing down one of the body’s detoxification methods: diarrhea. Plenty of water is required when taking activated charcoal.
Warnings to Keep in Mind
There are stomach aches that can’t be touched by these aids. If, for example, the appendix is swollen (pain is usually located on the right side of the stomach) the best remedy is to get to the doctor or, if you feel comfortable, educate yourself about enemas. They’re what we’ve used in acute situations to save ours. Here’s the video we used to avoid appendectomies.
Vomiting and cramping may indicate a food allergy.
If stomach pain is accompanied by other pain or flu-like symptoms contact your practitioner.
Other serious conditions that may cause stomach pain include these: Gallstones, Intestinal Obstruction, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), Pancreatitis, and Diverticulitis. However, conditions like Diverticulitis, for example, can absolutely be helped by adjusting one’s diet and using digestive aids such as slippery elm, aloe and bitters. Each patient is unique and should seek out the advise of a practitioner.