womenTALK: Blog

Tuesday, Aug 10th 2010

Easy Ways to Tackle Tummy Troubles

authored by Sheryl Kraft

It happens to me every single time I take a trip.

My stomach, usually reliable and iron-clad, acts up. I get nauseous. Bloated. Constipated.
Is it stress? Most likely.

I know I'm not alone. I have a good friend who, when he travels, does not go to the bathroom (okay, I'll say it. He doesn't move his bowels) AT ALL until he gets home. And it doesn't matter how long the trip is, either. I recently presented him, before he left for Europe with his wife, with a special going away gift; a beautifully wrapped package of…fiber take-along packs.

So, what can you do about the gurgling, bloated, uncomfortable and sometimes-embarrassing stomach woes?

If it's…Constipation

To help counter constipation, get plenty of fiber and magnesium. Fiber adds bulk and helps your waste move more efficiently through your system. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant which also attracts water (which, in turn, helps soften the stool, making it easier to pass). You can also get magnesium by eating a wide variety of things like legumes, nuts, whole grains and veggies.
Read what the NIH says about magnesium here.

Dandelion extract tea is also recommended for constipation relief.

If it's…Diarrhea

This can certainly ruin anyone's day. Some people are sensitive if they ingest too many artificial sweeteners like sugar alcohols mannitol and sorbitol, which are absorbed slowly – and incompletely – by the intestine. Stress and caffeine can also do a number on the intestines, speeding up the digestive process a bit too quickly for comfort.

Some studies say that both red wine and black tea are effective in slowing down overactive intestines and staging a fight against diarrhea-causing microbes, due to their high level of flavonoids and tannins.

When I was a kid, the tried-and-true treatment for diarrhea was the BRAT diet (I always remembered this because I was afraid my mother would think I was faking it and was a brat for spending so much time in the bathroom): Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast.

And while you're waiting for your tummy to return to the world of normal, certain foods like milk and milk products and those that have a lot of fiber or are very sweet, should be avoided. If you want something to drink (important for rehydration), reach for regular water, coconut water (an excellent source of electrolytes) or herbal tea, such as chamomile or peppermint.

If it's…Nausea/Vomiting

Oh, I know the feeling well. I’m so prone to motion sickness that just thinking about being on a boat can send my stomach into fits. But because there are times where I can't, or don't want to, avoid water travel altogether, I find that ginger capsules take the edge off nicely (other people who benefit from ginger's properties include those undergoing chemo and pregnant women).

When I was pregnant and suffered from nausea around the clock, I kept a supply of dry crackers and pretzels handy. Even if you're not pregnant, these foods work for a bout of nausea, since the starches in them will absorb stomach acid and help soothe your stomach. Remember to eat a little something every 2 or 3 hours so your stomach has an adequate ally in sopping up its irritating acid and juices.

If it's…Heartburn

Burping a lot? Feeling some burning in your throat and chest? Yup. Heartburn.
A full stomach can force acid up into your esophagus, so try eating five small meals rather than three large ones to give your stomach a break. Other culprits: chocolate, caffeine, alcohol and high-fat foods (which take longer to digest and can irritate the stomach's lining). And of course, everyone's body has its own distinct reaction to certain foods. What may cause heartburn in one person does not necessarily bother another (I, for example, am particularly prone to heartburn from bananas. Go figure).

It's also a good idea, after a big meal, to avoid lying down. Food needs to flow downward for adequate digestion. If you can't resist the horizontal position, at least prop your head up on a pillow 5-6 inches. Ideally, you should not eat within 2 hours of turning in for the night.

Some things that are thought to help with heartburn include deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL (the typical dose is two 250-milligram capsules taken 20 minutes before mealtime), marshmallow root tea or capsules and slippery elm. Over-the-counter remedies like Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids or Tums may help, too.

And if you notice that when you're stressed – presto! – heartburn ensues – try relaxing with things like aromatherapy, mediation or massage.


Foods that are hard to digest (like dairy, broccoli, cabbage, onions and beans) can repeat themselves and swell your tummy in many ways. So can carbonated drinks and anything with artificial sweeteners.

What to do? Try something like Beano, an over-the-counter enzyme, to help break up and digest the causes of your embarrassing sounds. Things like Gas-X or Mylanta Gas can help, too.

Sipping on green tea or cranberry juice (they're mild diuretics and can help you rid your body of excess fluid buildup that makes you want to just unzip your jeans and breathe). Before a meal, pop a peppermint capsule, which relaxes the smooth muscles of the digestive tract, helping with gas and bloating.

This Matters> Of course, there are more serious causes of stomach woes which may require more than these remedies – among them IBS, celiac disease, lactose intolerance, food poisoning or Crohn's disease – so if your symptoms are sudden, severe or persistent, it might be time to call your health care provider.

Subscribe to Midlife Matters by Email


Aug 16, 2010 02:Aug 2 | sarah henry said

great post on an

great post on an uncomfortable subject that plagues many of us. i have a couple of trips coming up and am sure the stress of travel is likely to upset my stomach at some stage.

so thanks for the tips.

Aug 13, 2010 10:Aug 10 | Donna Hull said

Such good advice, Sheryl.

Such good advice, Sheryl. Travel certainly upsets my digestive system, which is a shame since I'm a travel writer. Drinking more water is key for me. I have to make a point of reminding myself to drink more water.

Aug 12, 2010 12:Aug 12 | Alisa Bowman said

You've got some awesome

You've got some awesome advice here! Whenever I have heart burn, I eat a plain piece of bread and wash it down with a glass of water.

Aug 12, 2010 11:Aug 11 | Meredith said

What Ruth said! :)

What Ruth said! :)

Aug 12, 2010 08:Aug 8 | Susan said

My Mom used to talk about the

My Mom used to talk about the BRAT diet, too! Great tips here, Sheryl.

Aug 11, 2010 21:Aug 9 | Sheryl said

I think it's the stress that

I think it's the stress that goes along with travel, whether we realize it or not...

Aug 11, 2010 17:Aug 5 | [email protected] Food. Stories. said

The BRAT diet is the cure-all

The BRAT diet is the cure-all for everything (although in my case, it's the RAT diet because I find bananas to be loathsome). Any kind of upset stomach can be soothed with some lovely plain toast and applesauce.

Aug 11, 2010 15:Aug 3 | Almost Slowfood said

Tummy troubles plague me and

Tummy troubles plague me and my family. I'm printing this out for my mom and my grandma.

Aug 11, 2010 21:Aug 9 | Sheryl said

Hope your mom and grandma

Hope your mom and grandma find it helpful!

Aug 11, 2010 06:Aug 6 | rosalba said

Easy ways to tackle tummy troubles

Good article, next time that I travel I'll follow your advice. Thanks so much.

Aug 11, 2010 21:Aug 9 | Sheryl said

Glad you found it helpful,

Glad you found it helpful, Rosalba. Happy travels.

Aug 11, 2010 00:Aug 12 | Stephanie - Wasabimon said

I learned that most of my

I learned that most of my travel-related digestive woes were caused by stress when my doctor prescribed me a low level anti-anxiety medication for a few weeks. For the first time in forever, I had no stomach problems while on vacation! Wow! Now I just have to learn how to quickly and effectively de-stress without the benzos. ;)

I get terribly motion sick as well. I'm just a travel nightmare. :(

Aug 11, 2010 21:Aug 9 | Sheryl said

So glad your doc was able to

So glad your doc was able to uncover the cure for your travel-related digestive woes, Stephanie.

Aug 10, 2010 22:Aug 10 | Alexandra said

Me, too. Lots of good points

Me, too. Lots of good points here. My husband is the one who always suffers while traveling, so I will have him read your advice. Thanks!

Aug 11, 2010 21:Aug 9 | Sheryl said

Hopefully, your hubby will

Hopefully, your hubby will get some relief, Alexandra.

Aug 10, 2010 18:Aug 6 | Kris said

Oh, I've never heard of using

Oh, I've never heard of using slippery elm for heartburn. I have that in my cupboard; must try! And the packs-o-prunes? They're a travel staple for me.

Aug 11, 2010 21:Aug 9 | Sheryl said

Now, why would you have

Now, why would you have slippery elm sitting right in your cabinet? It's not your typical cupboard item, after all.

Aug 10, 2010 16:Aug 4 | Kristen said

I've heard that bananas do

I've heard that bananas do give some people heartburn--so strange because for me just the opposite is true. It could be the whole BRAT diet has a placebo effect on me--bananas cure just about any tummy issue I have.

Aug 11, 2010 21:Aug 9 | Sheryl said

Placebo or no placebo, I say

Placebo or no placebo, I say if bananas work, stick with them!

Aug 10, 2010 12:Aug 12 | ruth pennebaker said

travel tummy

Excellent advice! I don't know what it is about travel that disrupts everything, but I found myself nodding in agreement all the way through this piece.

Post new comment

If you do not wish to leave your name, please leave the "name" field blank.
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.