- Natural remedies for a stomach ache include ginger, peppermint, and diluted apple cider vinegar.
- You can also try using a heating pad or a hot water bottle to relax the muscles in your body and soothe a stomach ache.
- Dehydration could also cause a stomach ache, so drinking lots of water could ease abdominal pain.
- This article was medically reviewed by Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center and director of MemorialCare Medical Group’s Digestive Disease Project in Fountain Valley, CA.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Dull pain, sharp pain, throbbing pain, cramping — stomach problems can evoke it all. Many times, these stomach aches are impossible to ignore and can really throw a wrench in your day if you don’t do something to treat them.
However, certain remedies are more effective than others. For example, the popular BRAT diet of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast is no longer recommended for stomach bugs. In this article we discuss common causes for your stomach ache and offer five natural home remedies proven to ease your pain and get back to feeling better.
Causes of a stomach ache
There are many reasons you may have a stomach ache, ranging from something as simple as taking medication on an empty stomach to something more serious, like an ulcer, says Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Acute, short-term stomach aches usually last for between two to three days and don’t necessarily require a doctor’s visit. Here are some common causes of acute, short-term stomach aches:
- Gas and indigestion
- Allergic reaction to food
- Food poisoning
- Stomach flu
- Eating spicy foods
- Taking certain medications on an empty stomach
- Stress and anxiety
- Appendicitis (This condition is acute but very serious. Seek medical attention immediately if you believe you have appendicitis)
Chronic stomach pain can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition and you should consider scheduling an appointment with a doctor. More serious stomach aches may be caused by the following:
- IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), an intestinal disorder.
- Stomach ulcers
- Gallstones (Gallbladder stones and inflammation)
- Pancreatitis, a condition that causes the pancreas to become inflamed.
- Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) which is caused by an inflamed digestive tract.
- Ulcerative colitis, a type of IBD that causes chronic inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract.
- Certain cancers including stomach, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and kidney
Remedies for a stomach ache
Bedford says that many patients respond well to home remedies, whether natural or over the counter. Here are five remedies to help ease your pain.
Ginger is a natural remedy that’s been used since ancient times. Ancient people native to India and China are thought to have used ginger 5000 years ago to treat their ailments.
Today, ginger is still widely used as an effective remedy — and Bedford recommends it too for his patients suffering from stomach discomfort and nausea.
Ginger can help with stomach pain because it acts as an anti-inflammatory. Additionally, if you’re struggling with nausea, Bedford says ginger can relieve and prevent nausea and vomiting, and you don’t have to chew on raw ginger to get relief. Bedford says any form of ginger can be beneficial. You can consume it in multiple ways:
- Chewing on the fresh ginger root itself
- Drinking ginger ale (Ginger ale can be high in sugar, so if you’re trying to cut back on sweets, this may not be the best option.)
- Drinking ginger tea
- Eating ginger chews
- Ginger supplements
Bedford says peppermint has provided his patients with relief from stomach aches, gas, and bloating. This is because the two main ingredients in peppermint — menthol and methyl salicylate — have antispasmodic properties, meaning they relieve spasms, such as those that IBS sufferers may experience.
“For many people who have stomach aches, it’s usually caused by spasming of the lining or the walls of the small bowel, colon, or stomach, and peppermint oil just seems to relax those muscles,” says Bedford.
Overall, the stomach and surrounding muscles will relax thanks to these properties, reducing spasms, which can lead to relief from stomach ache, gas, bloating, and nausea.
Studies surrounding peppermint and stomach aches have mostly been centered around IBS, and results are promising. For example, a meta-analysis published in 2019 in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine reviewed 12 studies for a total of 835 participants. The meta-analysis found that peppermint oil capsules are more effective at providing symptom relief than a placebo, with a low risk of adverse effects.
The two main ways to consume peppermint are:
- Peppermint oil capsules
- Peppermint tea
3. Apply heat
Using a heating pad or hot water bottle can help relieve patients’ stomach pain, Bedford says. Just make sure that there is a barrier between your skin and the heating pad or water bottle to avoid burns. Lie down in a position that’s comfortable and then place it on your upper or lower abdomen, wherever you are experiencing the pain.
The heat acts as a muscle relaxer for the muscles in your belly which can help relieve pain associated with muscle cramping and gas. Heating pads are great if your stomach ache may be stemming from stress and anxiety. Additionally, if your belly pain is due to menstrual cramps, a heating pad is a great remedy for that, too.
Additionally, researchers at the University College London discovered that applying heat of at least 104º Fahrenheit externally can block internal pain receptors, which in turn will make the original pain less detectable by the body. The researchers found that this mechanism works at a molecular level, similar to pain medications. The heat works by blocking pain receptors, called P2X3 receptors, which transmit pain signals to the brain.
Aside from using a heating pad, you can also take a hot bath for a similar effect.
However, people who are pregnant should not use a heating pad on their stomach at any point during pregnancy because excess heat can increase the risk of birth defects.
4. Stay hydrated
Dehydration can cause a mineral imbalance in your body, which disrupts normal bodily function and can trigger a series of symptoms including stomach pain.
So, if your pain is from dehydration, make sure you’re getting enough fluids in your diet. Especially if you’re sick and sweating a lot, have diarrhea, or are vomiting as these conditions can worsen dehydration.
The notion that you need to drink eight glasses of water a day is a myth. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend that women get 91 fl. oz. of fluids per day and men get 125 fl. oz. This can come from water, other beverages, and foods.
5. Drink diluted apple cider vinegar
If you’re dealing with a stomach ache caused by gas or indigestion, apple cider vinegar might do the trick to help aid digestion. Bedford says the “recipe” that homeopathic doctors usually recommend is:
- One cup of warm water
- One tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
- One tablespoon of honey
Taking the apple cider vinegar alone undiluted is not recommended since the acidity can irritate your throat and deteriorate tooth enamel. Plus, mixing it with water and honey can make the vinegar more palatable.
Most of the evidence for apple cider vinegar and stomach aches is anecdotal, and more research is needed to determine if this is a sure-fire remedy for most.
Different remedies work for different stomach aches. And what works for your friend may not work for you. So it may take some trial and error to figure out what remedy you respond to best.
If your symptoms are persistent, not responding to home remedies, and interfering with your daily life, Bedford says you should see a gastroenterologist to figure out what’s going on and get you on the right treatment plan.
Additionally, he says if you’re seeing any blood whether in your bowel movements or if you’re coughing or vomiting blood along with your stomach ache, this could be a sign of more serious conditions such as diverticulitis, ulcers, colon cancer, or rectal cancer, and you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.