Indigestion is a common ailment in children today and is caused by direct errors. It a condition of the stomach in which digestive juices are incorrectly secreted, resulting in discomfort.
Abdominal pain, a feeling of undue fullness after eating, heartburn, loss of appetite, nauses or vomiting and excessive wind or gas are the usual symptoms of indigestion. Other symptoms include a bad taste in the mouth, coated tongue, foul breath and pain in the upper abdomen.
Indigestion in children may be either acute of chronic. When undigested food remains for a long time in the stomach it causes inflammation, chronic indigestion is followed by acute attacks.
Discomfort and distress are often caused by overeating, eating too rapidly or not chewing properly. Overeating or eating frequently produces a feverish state in the system and overtaxes the digestive organs. It produces excessive acid and causes the gastric mucous membranes to become congested. Hyperacidity is usually the result. Overeating makes the stomach, liver, kidneys and bowels work harder. When this food purifies, its poisons are absorbed back into the blood and consequently, the whole system is poisoned.
Many children gulp their food. When food is swallowed in large chunks, the stomach has to work harder and more hydrochloric acid is secreted. Eating too fast also causes one to swallow air. These bad habits force some of the digestive fluid into the oesophagus, causing burning, a stinging sensation of a sour taste, giving an illusion of stomach acid.
Certain foods, especially if they are not properly cooked, cause indigestion. Some children react unfavourably to certain foods like beans, cabbage, onion, cucumber, radish and seafoods. Fried foods as well as rich and spicy foods often cause abdominal discomfort and gas and aggravate the existing condition. Constipation may interfere with the normal flow of ingested matter through the gastro-intestinal tract, resulting in gas and abdominal pain.
The only effective treatment for indigestion in children is a thorough cleansing of the digestive tract, and adoption of sensible diet thereafter. The best way to begin the treatment is to put the child on raw juices for a day or two. He may be given orange juice mixed with hot water on 50 : 50 basis during this period. If orange juice does not agree, carrot juice, mixed with water, may be given. If possible, the bowels should be cleansed once daily with a small warm-water enema. In the alternative, a glycerine suppository may be applied for this purpose. If this is done, the symptoms will soon disappear.
The child should then be placed on an all-fruit diet for a further day or two. With regards to this, he should be given juicy fruits such as apple, pineapple, pear,peach, orange and papaya. This may be followed by a restricted diet of easily digestible foods, consisting of lightly -cooked vegetable, juice fruits and buttermilk for two days or so and thereafter, he may be allowed to embark upon a well-balanced diet suited to his age.
The use of fruits in general is beneficial in the treatment of indigestion. They flush out undigested food residue and accumulated faeces and re-establish health. Being rich in water, they clean body mechanisms thoroughly. The best fruit for treating indigestion is the lemon. Its juice reaches the stomach and attacks the bacteria, inhibiting the formation of acids. Lemon juice removes indigestion by disloding this acid and other harmful substances from the stomach, thereby strengthening and promoting healthy appetite.
The orange is another effective remedy for chronic indigestion. It supplies nutrition in a most easily assimilable form. It also stimulates the flow of digestive juices, thereby improving digestion and increasing appetite. It creates suitable conditions for the development of friendly bacteria in the intestines.
Grapefruit (chakotra) is also useful for indigestion. It is a light food which acts immediately on indigestion and relieves heat and stomach irritation. Pineapple is also valuable. It acts as a tonic for indigestion and relieves digestive disorders.
The child suffering from indigestion should be encouraged to follow the under-mentioned rules regarding eating :
- Water should not be taken with meals, but half an hour before or one hour after a meal.
- Never hurry through a meal. Eat very slowly and chew the food as thoroughly as possible.
- Never eat to a full stomach.
- Do not eat if appetite is lacking.
- Do not mix too many foods in the same meal.
Hydrotherapy can also be used beneficially in the treatment of indigestion. Useful measures in this direction include wet girdle pack applied at night, application of ice bag over the stomach half an hour before meals and a hot water bag over the stomach half an hour after meals, a daily cold friction bath and alternate hot and cold hip baths at night. The procedure for taking these baths have been explained in the Appendix. Massaging of the abdomen also helps.
Light exercises such as walking, bicycling and swimming also help digestion. Certain yogic practices are also useful and older children can be encouraged to undertake them. These include uttanpadasana, pavanmuktasana ; vajrasana, yogamudra, bhuja- ngasana, shalabhasana and shavasana, kriyas like jalaneti, and kunjal and pranayamas like kapahbhati, anuloma-viloma and ujjal.