You know the drill. You eat something that doesn’t agree with you or, worse yet, a food that’s a little “off,” and BAM! The next thing you know, you’re suffering from heartburn, gas, nausea, or worse.
But what if it’s not from something you ate? A growing number of studies show that other, sometimes surprising, factors can also upset your digestive tract and trigger a bout of gastritis or indigestion.
Gastritis vs. Indigestion
Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining. Symptoms can include upper belly pain, nausea, and vomiting. Indigestion, on the other hand, is often caused by an irritation or erosion of the stomach lining or the throat. It can cause bloating, feeling uncomfortably full after eating, gas, heartburn, and nausea.
While the food you eat can be a source of these symptoms, your stomach ache may not actually be food related. Instead, it could be caused by a seemingly random or unrelated factor like a lifestyle habit. This is particularly true if you suffer from chronic digestive upset.
Surprising Causes of Tummy Troubles
Your everyday habits and environment can play an unexpected role in triggering a stomach ache. The most common include:
Alcohol overuse. Drinking too much alcohol can trigger heartburn. This is because alcohol can cause your stomach to produce more acid than usual. If alcohol overuse becomes routine, this can gradually wear away your stomach lining, making it inflamed and painful (gastritis).1
Antibiotics. Some antibiotics can irritate the lining of the stomach. In response, the glands in the stomach secrete more acid. This acid can then lead to greater reflux of food and acid into the esophagus, causing heartburn. Worse yet, frequent antibiotic use can cause antibiotic-related diarrhea and a recurrent Clostridioides difficile (C.diff) infection.2
Caffeine intake. Ever wonder why heartburn hits after enjoying that cup of coffee? New research reports that caffeine causes an uptick in stomach acid production and changes the bacterial composition in your gut.3
Nonsteroidal anti-Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Whether it’s aspirin, ibuprofen, or a prescription NSAID, frequently taking these pain-relieving drugs for chronic pain can increase acid reflux and other symptoms of indigestion.4
Sleep deprivation. Studies have linked a lack of sleep to a variety of digestive problems, including abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting.5 This is because shortchanging your sleep can upset your gut microbiota, increase stress, and make you prone to poor food choices.
Smoking. It’s no secret that smoking can boost the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory disease. But it can also irritate the stomach lining and increase the prevalence of gastritis and acid reflux.6 Long-term smokers who suffer from chronic indigestion also have an higher risk of developing a serious precancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.7
Stress. Feeling a little stressed-out? It could be causing your stomach ache. This is because stress can make the colon contract, leading to stomach pain. And since stress-related anxiety can interfere with digestion, it can also spark indigestion and heartburn.8
Happy Belly Habits
Making a few swaps to your lifestyle can improve the symptoms of gastritis or indigestion. Plus, adopting these healthy habits may even help to prevent a future stomach ache.
Boost your activity level. Research shows that regular aerobic exercise can help protect against constipation, diverticulosis, gas, and bloating. 9,10 What qualifies as aerobic exercise? Anything that raises your heart rate like walking briskly, bike riding, playing tennis, swimming, rowing, jogging, or dancing. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity daily.
Get zen. One of the best ways to manage gut-wrenching stress and prevent stress-related digestive upset is by employing relaxation techniques whenever life throws you a curve. This is especially true for those who suffer from chronic digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).11 Stress-busting techniques that may help restore a sense of calm to your digestive tract include mindfulness meditation, yoga, hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, mental imaging, biofeedback, deep breathing, and even simply listening to soothing music.
Mind your alcohol and caffeine intake. Limiting the amount of alcohol and caffeine you consume can reduce inflammation and the production of stomach acid.12,13 Swapping out that nightly glass of wine or second cup of coffee for water not only benefits your digestive tract, it also enhances your body’s ability to eliminate waste.
Trade in ultra-processed foods for minimally-processed fare. While food may not be at the root of your stomach problems, what you eat can support a healthy digestive system. Instead of fast food or convenience foods, opt for fresh fruits and vegetables, cold water fish like salmon, organic poultry, and fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kim chi, or sauerkraut. It’s also important to eat foods high in fiber which helps to prevent constipation, lowers the risk of colon cancer and hemorrhoids, and boosts the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Some high-fiber foods include almonds, artichokes, avocado, beans, broccoli, chickpeas, edamame, lentils, oats, pears, and raspberries.
Try a probiotic. Taken daily, probiotics can help keep your digestive system operating optimally. What to look for? Studies show that a supplement like Kyo-Dophilus Max Probiotic provides a diverse array of friendly flora, including three specific types of beneficial bacteria shown to support healthy digestion. L. gasseri, B. bifidum, and B. longum¾also known as the friendly trio¾are the most prevalent bacteria found in the intestines. Combined, these beneficial probiotic strains help guard against occasional bouts of constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating. Plus, Kyo-Dophilus Max Probiotic is shelf-stable and is made from human probiotic strains that are guaranteed viable through the expiration date on the label.
When to Seek Help
Most bouts of gastritis or indigestion aren’t serious and resolve themselves within a day or two. But if you have any of the following symptoms, you may have a more serious condition and should see a doctor right away.
- Black, tarlike stools
- Bloody vomit
- Difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
- Frequent vomiting
- Losing weight without trying
- Severe and constant pain in your abdomen
You should also see a doctor if your indigestion lasts longer than 2 weeks.
- Li G. A new participant in the pathogenesis of alcoholic gastritis: pyroptosis. Cell Physiology and Biochemistry. 2018;49:406-418.
- Ramirez J. Antibiotics as major disruptors of gut microbiota.Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. 2020; 10:
- Nehlig A. Effects of coffee on the gastro-intestinal tract: A narrative review and literature update.Nutrients. 2022;14(2):399.
- Ruszniewski P. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use as a risk factor for gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: an observational study. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2008; 28(9):1134-1139.
- Cremonini, F. Sleep disturbances are linked to both upper and lower gastrointestinal symptoms in the general population.Neurogastroenterology Motility. 2009;21(2):128-135.
- Salama RI. Hazarders of smoking and Helicobacter pylori infection on gastric mucos among Egyptian patients with dyspepsia. Open Journal of Gastroenterology. 2021;11(1).
- Cook MB. Cigarette smoking increases risk of Barrett’s esophagus: an analysis of the Barrett’s and Esophageal Adenocarcinoma Consortium. 2012;142(4):744-753.
- Chang, Y.M. Does stress induce bowel dysfunction?.Expert Review of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2014;8(6):583-585.
- Gao, R. Exercise therapy in patients with constipation: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2019;54(2):169-177.
- Physical activity and digestive health: It’s complicated! GI Society. Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/physical-activity-and-gi-health/
- Kanchibhotla, D. Improvement in Gastrointestinal Quality of Life Index (GIQLI) following meditation: An open-trial pilot study in India.Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. 2021;12(1):107-111.
- Bode, C. Alcohol’s role in gastrointestinal tract disorders.Alcohol Health and Research World. 1997;21(1):76-83.
- Boekema, P.J. Coffee and gastrointestinal function: facts and fiction. A review. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology Supplement. 1999;230:35-9.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.