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Soothing your stomach: Self-help strategies for preventing stomach upset

Most of us experience stomach trouble from time to time—heartburn, nausea, bloating, belching, gas. And if you’re pregnant, heartburn may become an everyday event (see sidebar). But expecting or not, there’s good news when it comes to stomach problems: Most can be prevented.

If you’ve been suffering gastrointestinal distress lately, try these kind-to-your-stomach strategies:

Modify your diet. If you’re prone to heartburn or acid indigestion, avoid foods that can cause those symptoms. Culprits include whole-milk dairy products, fatty foods, chocolate, nuts, tomato products, peppermint, spearmint, citrus juices and caffeinated beverages.

It’s also a good idea to put a lid on your alcohol consumption. Beer, wine and mixed drinks interfere with digestion by increasing production of stomach acids and decreasing production of pancreatic enzymes needed to break down foods.

Plagued by gas? Look to high-fiber foods like peas, beans and bran as possible culprits. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should eliminate healthful fiber from your diet; simply eat it in small amounts until your digestive system has had a chance to adjust to larger amounts.

When it comes to two other gas promoters, carbonated beverages and chewing gum, feel free to cut them from your diet altogether, as neither one provides essential nutrients!

If you’re not sure which foods are causing your gas problem, try avoiding the suspects—one by one—until you isolate the culprits.

Stop smoking. Smoking makes heartburn worse by relaxing the muscle that keeps acid from traveling back up into the esophagus.

Lose excess weight and avoid tight clothing. Both put pressure on the digestive tract, which causes gastric acids to back up into the esophagus.

Don’t rush meals. Eating too fast—and gulping large amounts of air—can cause gas. So chew your food thoroughly. Taking your time allows enzymes in the saliva to mix with food, getting the digestive process off to a good start.

Make bedtime changes. If heartburn or indigestion strikes at night, don’t lie down for at least two hours after eating. Raising the head of your bed six to 10 inches may also help.

Don’t exercise soon after eating. Give the digestive system a two-hour head start before jogging, jumping, bending, flexing or otherwise exerting pressure on the esophageal sphincter—the ring at the base of the esophagus that opens and closes to let what was swallowed into the stomach.

Reduce stress. Tension can cause stomach discomfort. Try exercise, meditation and other de-stressing techniques.