Kids of all ages can have digestive concerns and discomforts. Constipation and tummy aches are quite common in toddlers and preschoolers, while teens tend to suffer from a group of complaints called dyspepsia.
Dyspepsia can be described as indigestion, heartburn, bloating, excessive belching or regurgitation, or feeling uncomfortably full after meals. The conventional recommendations for someone who has dyspepsia is to avoid spicy foods, eat smaller, more frequent meals, and to avoid laying down right away after eating. While following these recommendations can help, at CentreSpringMD, we like to get to the root cause of the problem so we can help patients find healing rather than just suppress symptoms.
We can’t approach this issue without first talking about lifestyle factors that affect digestion in our teens. Adolescents tend to “eat on the run,” but eating too quickly without chewing adequately can lead to indigestion and discomfort. Digestion starts in the mouth and requires chewing food well, while salivary enzymes help break down food before it goes down. Also, let’s not forget that the quality of food makes a huge difference in how we feel. Teens tend to indulge more in fast food, heavily processed food, and overall “junk” – which clearly can lead to digestive discomfort.
Now let’s talk about some other underlying problems that may be leading to these uncomfortable symptoms in your teen.
Hypochlorhydria: not enough stomach acid
I know this can sound counter-intuitive, since taking antacids is such a common Band-Aid-type treatment for symptoms of heartburn and indigestion. However, long term use of antacid medications can actually worsen digestive issues by decreasing our body’s ability to break down food within the stomach.
A bacterial infection due to H. Pylori could lead to severe abdominal pain, heartburn symptoms, and even ulcers.
SIBO – Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
We all know that we house a lot of bacteria in our guts, but the small intestine is not an area where bacteria should be present in large amounts. When there is overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, and excessive gas can manifest. SIBO can also lead to malabsorption of important nutrients. Most patients with SIBO feel much worse when they take a probiotic.
Dysbiosis is the imbalance of gut flora. It could mean too much harmful bacteria, not enough good bacteria, or overgrowth of bacteria in the wrong part of the gut (like SIBO). Symptoms of dysbiosis could include all the symptoms of dyspepsia like abdominal pain and discomfort after meals, bloating, gas and indigestion.
Allergies or intolerances to foods can absolutely cause symptoms of dyspepsia. Sometimes the symptoms are immediate after ingesting that food, but often symptoms can be delayed by 24 hours to 5 days. While symptoms of food sensitivities can include abdominal discomfort, they can also include changes in behavior, headaches, brain fog, and fatigue (among so many others).
So your teen has dyspepsia, now what?
Getting to the bottom of the problem is one of the first steps. At CentreSpringMD + Peds, we have an arsenal of tests we can offer to figure out what the root cause of your teen’s dyspepsia may be (after a comprehensive visit including a complete history and physical).
While waiting on those results, there are some holistic measures we can take to help their symptoms improve. Encouraging them to make diet and lifestyle changes is a priority (cut the junk, chew thoroughly, don’t eat too fast). Deglycyrrhized licorice (DGL) can help improve dyspepsia symptoms by protecting the lining of the stomach. My personal favorite supplement for digestive issues is Glutamine, which is an amino acid that helps heal the gut lining.
In addition to these, adding a high quality probiotic and pure Peppermint essential oil (diluted and applied topically over the abdomen) should get your teen started on the road to improvement of their dyspepsia symptoms. Once their test results come back, more personalized treatments can begin.