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What are the five best remedies for stomach aches? — whether or not you know the cause. Often a child can’t describe why her stomach hurts, or in what way. As adults, sometimes we know, and other times, we don’t! Here, we look at five remedies, plus why and how they work. Depending on the cause of your stomach ache, this article may help you add one or two items to your medicine cabinet — to have ready when you need them.
Why I used Pepto-Bismol when I was little
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 teens. 😉
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.
My mom didn’t know any better, as most moms gave their kids Pepto-Bismol back in the 80s, and still do.
My dad, no less awesome, had less sympathy for sickness, because he couldn’t relate. He once 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 92 years old and still in excellent health.
But … 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 have an increased chance of making it better.
Let’s look at the five best remedies for stomach aches. 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.
1. The 1st remedy: Digestive Bitters
Safe for kids, adults, the elderly and most invalids, digestive bitters is an ancient herbal tincture made from one or more herbs. The herbs stimulate the gall bladder to release digestive juices (bile, which helps to break down fats and proteins). Bitters are almost a “cure-all” for digestion-related stomach aches, considering how well they work.
If you’ve ever wondered what’s in my “medicine”/wellness cabinet, bitters is one of the ever-present items. I even make my own now; you can find the fast and easy recipe here. It works on most stomach aches and takes the pain away within just 2 to 3 minutes!
Why bitters work… Bitters help to adjust 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 kill invasive pathogens, including viruses. The extra acidity created by bitters and needed for good digestion, therefore, helps to balance the gut flora in one’s stomach. (In the long run, bitters help with leaky gut, which in and of itself can cause chronic stomach aches, as undigested and caustic food particles irritate the stomach lining.)
Bitters also stimulate the peristalsis of one’s intestines, thus moving along bowel movements and improving constipation. (Magnesium and probiotics like this one can also be very helpful in cases of constipation.)
Bitters 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 choice I often make (after asking him a few questions) is bitters, one dropper-full in about 2 ounces of water if he’s eaten recently — or half that amount on an empty stomach. 95% of the time it relieves his pain.
This is my favorite brand of Digestive Bitters, the one I use for the kids. Before I started making my own, I bought this Gentian for myself, because it’s a fruit-free bitter (and I don’t digest fruit well). One dropper-full is the dosage I use for stomach aches related to digestion, stirred into 1 to 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 in bulk here.
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 haven’t needed it for a while, but I used to 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.
4. Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is most often used for diarrhea and food poisoning. Both excellent reasons to reach for your first aid kit, I keep activated charcoal on hand and also use it regularly (at a low dose) for detox purposes. We’ve seen it work wonders.
Charcoal is not a remedy to reach for often at higher doses. 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.
5. Homeopathic: Nat. Phos.
My new favorite remedy for stomach aches — and the one I reach for first (unless I know the body needs bitters or another remedy) — is Nat. Phos. 6X. I buy Hyland’s #10, which you can find here.
Designated for indigestion and gas, Nat. Phos. works for a variety of stomach aches — whether from an unknown cause, hard to digest food or overeating. This homeopathic can help move the bowels and soothe discomfort to the stomach lining. It’s a wonderful all-round solution.
And if it doesn’t work, it’s easy to try another remedy from this article. Gentle, affordable and effective, it’s a great supplement to try first.
Other causes of 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 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’s an article to get you started if you have foods you need to temporarily eliminate but hope to reintroduce later.
Supplements that support gut healing
To support overall gut rebuilding, here’s a post on Vitamin U and Zinc-Carnosine, two supplements that help to coat, relieve pain and rebuild. The article also discusses ulcers and the healing of ulcers.
Warnings and health conditions to keep in mind
There are stomach aches that can’t be affected by supplements.
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 advice of a practitioner.
“If your digestive distress has lasted for more than one week, you are experiencing long term loss of appetite or vaginal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, long-term diarrhea, long-term bloating, a burning sensation when you urinate or pain that is extreme. It is important to seek medical attention. This is especially important if you have recently experienced an abdominal injury, the pain is incredibly sharp or your abdomen has become rigid or you are vomiting blood. Contact your doctor to determine whether emergency medical care is necessary.” (source)