Gastroparesis, also known as delayed gastric emptying, is a chronic condition that arises when the nerves or muscles in the stomach become impaired such that the stomach takes too long to empty itself of the food contents. It is not a very common disorder. It has been found that out of 100,000 people, only about 10 men and about 40 women suffer from gastroparesis. The most common forms are diabetic, idiopathic, and post-surgical gastroparesis.
Causes of Gastroparesis
Experts have not conclusively identified what leads to gastroparesis. As such, most cases of gastroparesis are idiopathic.
However, damage to the vagus nerve that controls the stomach muscles, and thereby the movement of food through the digestive tract, can lead to this condition. On account of a damaged vagus nerve, the proper contractions of the muscles in the stomach and intestines are hindered and they fail to function properly or not at all. This ultimately results in the sluggish movement of food through the digestive tract and delayed excretion.
The damage to the vagus nerve can be due to several factors, including:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Abdominal surgery
- Radiation therapy
- Certain types of viral infection
- Nervous system diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis
Narcotics, opioids, antidepressants, pain relievers, high blood pressure medications, and allergy medications can also slow the rate of stomach motility and lead to gastroparesis.
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia can also increase your risk of developing gastroparesis.
Women are more prone to develop gastroparesis as compared to men. Moreover, the prevalence and severity of gastroparesis symptoms are higher among obese females, especially those who have long-standing and poorly controlled diabetes.
Signs and Symptoms of Gastroparesis
Some common symptoms of gastroparesis are:
- Upper abdominal pain
- Vomiting undigested food particles
- Decreased appetite
- Swollen abdomen
- Fluctuations in blood sugar levels
- Feeling full and heavy after eating only a very small amount of food
- Acid reflux
- Sudden weight loss
- Bloating, which is a very common symptom in gastroparesis and is severe in many individuals
These symptoms range from mild to severe and can vary from person to person.
- Refrain from smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, as these tend to aggravate the symptoms.
- Avoid foods that are hard to digest, such as dairy products, hot and spicy foods, oily foods, raw fruits, and vegetables that are high in fiber like cabbage.
- Try meditative chanting to stimulate a vibratory sensation inside the body, which in turn stimulates the vagus nerve function.
- Be mindful not to rush through your meals, and it is imperative that you take your time to chew your food thoroughly before swallowing.
- Avoid lying down immediately after a meal. Instead, take a short walk or do some light exercises to aid the digestive process.
- It is preferable to eat six small meals in a day rather than three large ones.
When to See a Doctor
You must consult a doctor immediately if you experience the following symptoms:
- Severe pain
- Cramping in the abdomen
- Fluctuating blood sugar levels
- Severe vomiting
- Vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- Difficulty breathing
Additionally, it is imperative that you check with your doctor right away if you are experiencing signs of dehydration, such as extreme thirst, dry mouth, decreased urine output, and lightheadedness or fainting.
It is important to seek medical attention for gastroparesis, as it can cause complications like severe dehydration, malnutrition, and fluctuations in blood sugar and can end up hampering your overall quality of life in the long run.
Simple home remedies as well as diet and lifestyle changes can offer some relief.
Here are some of the best home remedies for gastroparesis.
1. Dietary Modifications
When diagnosed with gastroparesis, you will need to make some important dietary changes.
The right combination of nutrients, calories, and fluid in your diet is the first step towards reducing the symptoms of gastroparesis and thereby preventing the problem from escalating to further complications, such as malnutrition and dehydration.
- Avoid high-fiber foods. As people suffering from gastroparesis are prone to bezoar (undigested food mass) formation, low-fiber foods as well as low-fat foods are highly recommended by experts to minimize symptoms.
- Aim for 5–6 small meals throughout the day so that there will be less food in the stomach.
- Ensure that food items are soft and well cooked. Chew your food thoroughly.
2. Increasing Fluid Intake
Although adequate water intake is good for your overall health, it is especially recommended if you are suffering from gastroparesis. Water helps to avoid insufficient alkalizing of pancreatic juices, which helps prevent the pyloric valve from opening. This, in turn, reduces the severity of discomfort associated with gastroparesis.
Individuals suffering from diabetes-related gastroparesis often digest fluids normally.
- Sip water at regular intervals. It is also recommended to drink water while eating food.
- Drink natural fruit and vegetable juices. Stay away from carbonated beverages and sugary juices.
- Consuming clear soups and broths can be helpful too.
3. Probiotic Foods
Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide many digestive benefits when consumed in sufficient amounts. These microorganisms help your body break down food and absorb nutrients better.
Probiotics can help prevent bloating, a very common symptom of gastroparesis.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis found that probiotics can accelerate gastric emptying slightly, especially in healthy people of 41–60 years of age.
- Eat probiotic foods, such as Greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, buttermilk, and sour pickles.
- You can also try probiotic supplements, but only after consulting your doctor.
Ginger is another natural ingredient that helps attenuate the symptoms of gastroparesis. It helps by stimulating the secretion of enzymes needed to properly digest food, which in turn facilitates speedy movement of food along the digestive tract and emptying of the stomach contents. It can even alleviate nausea.
A study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology in 2008 demonstrated the effectiveness of ginger in accelerating gastric emptying.
- Mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of ginger juice in a cup of warm water. Drink it 20 to 30 minutes before eating a meal.
- Alternatively, drink a few cups of ginger tea daily. To make the tea, boil 1 to 1½ cups of water, add 5–6 ginger slices in it, and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes. You can also add a little lemon juice or honey to make it more flavorsome.
- Another option is to take ginger supplements. However, consult your doctor before starting any supplement regimen.
5. Vitamin D
Maintaining an optimal level of vitamin D in the body is a must for people suffering from gastroparesis. Vitamin D is essentially a hormone produced by the skin in response to sunlight exposure. While vitamin D is mostly celebrated for being an unparalleled aid to bone health, it can also come in handy for improving gastric motility and relieving the symptoms of gastroparesis.
A 2013 study published in Hormone and Metabolic Research shows the link between increases in vitamin D levels and improvement in gastric motility in patients with gastroparesis.
- Soak in the early morning sunlight, without using any sunscreen, for 10 to 15 minutes daily.
- Eat foods high in vitamin D, such as fortified milk, fortified cereals, or a nice piece of salmon.
- You can take a high-quality vitamin D supplement daily, after consulting your doctor.
The aromatic freshness of peppermint helps relieve nausea and vomiting, two of the most common gastroparesis symptoms. Furthermore, it aids digestion and helps treat bloating and intestinal cramps as well.
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology shows that peppermint oil enhances gastric emptying.
- To stop nausea, put a few drops of peppermint oil on a handkerchief and sniff it from time to time.
- To improve digestion, drink peppermint tea once or twice a day. Make the tea by steeping 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink it.
- Alternatively, you can take enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules, under your doctor’s guidance.
7. Acupressure and Acupuncture
Acupressure and acupuncture are alternative medicine techniques in which acupoints are pressed with fingers or thin needles are inserted in lines on the body called meridians to engender a healing effect. These techniques can work well to relieve gastroparesis symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and bloating. They also help improve neurological functions as well as boost immunity.
Furthermore, these therapies promote the circulation of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, which helps the digestive system function properly.
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine concludes that acupuncture provided therapeutic benefits to diabetic patients with gastroparesis.
Another 2012 study reports that pressing acupressure points PC6 (located on the wrist) and ST36 (located on the front of the leg, below the kneecap) for a few minutes can help relieve abdominal complaints.
To capitalize on the health-promoting effect of acupuncture and acupressure in treating gastroparesis symptoms, it is well advised to seek the help of an expert in the field.
8. Controlling Blood Glucose Levels
According to the American Diabetic Association, gastroparesis can make it even more difficult for patients with diabetes to manage blood glucose.
Thus, if you suffer from the lethal combination of gastroparesis and diabetes, it is all the more critical to control your blood glucose levels, especially hyperglycemia. The frequent changes in the rate of digestion of the food and the amount of food passing into the small bowel can lead to erratic swings in the blood sugar level.
Uncontrolled blood sugar may cause more delay in the emptying of food from your stomach, which can worsen the condition. To prevent blood sugar from getting too high or too low, monitor your food intake and adjust your insulin supplementation accordingly with the advice of your doctor.
- Drinking aloe vera juice or pineapple juice can also help.
- Follow a diet with very little or even no fat. This means cutting bacon, salami, cheese, whole grains, cabbage, corn, and beans out of your diet.
- If nausea is a problem, stay away from strong-smelling foods.
- Make necessary efforts to control underlying conditions that may be aggravating gastroparesis.
- Practice deep breathing to improve digestion.
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