What is Indigestion?

What causes indigestion

At gut-smart we are all about digestion and we love to learn. We realised that people use the word indigestion to describe so many situations to do with discomfort after eating – but do we really know what it is we’re talking about?

gut-smart herbalist Pamela Spence works with people suffering from indigestion in many guises every week, so we asked her to explain what is it we actually mean when we talk about indigestion.


Pamela says:

Great question! Some people use the word indigestion when they experience a burning sensation above their stomach – which is actually acid reflux. Others use the word indigestion when they are experiencing belching, or the repeated taste of a food they have eaten. For others the word can be used when they are bloated, crampy, gassy and so on.

Let’s pick apart those scenarios. The first, with the burning sensation is actually acid reflux. This occurs when acid that should remain in the stomach escapes up into the oesophagus above and literally burns those soft tissues. Those people either have too much stomach acid, or the muscle that should close off the stomach isn’t functioning properly – leading to leakage, typically when they bend forwards to tie their laces, or lie down to sleep. Stomach acid is crucial because it is a key element in digesting our food, and keeping unwanted bugs out of our lower digestive tract.

The next scenario with the repeated taste of a food and belching can actually be caused by inefficient stomach acid – there might be too little, or it’s not strong enough. In this case the food the person has eaten is struggling to be digested and that’s why they keep on tasting it for some time. This needs a different approach to the acid reflux person where the acid is too much.

The other complaints of bloating, cramping and gas usually happen further down the digestive tract and can have many causes. All of those might be caused by imbalances in our gut flora. Science is only just starting to understand what an impact the gut flora has on our overall health. We now understand that not only is the gut flora important for digestion but also for mental health, immunity and much more.

So the next time someone tells you they have indigestion – you’ll know that not everyone means the same thing! This might be why one solution works brilliantly for you, but does nothing for your friend. Understanding what ‘indigestion’ means for you can help you to support your gastro-intestinal health.

June 2023