The other evening, my friend Anne and I ate dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant.
Our delicious meal consisted of several courses—there was the antipasto platter filled with a variety of deli meats, veggies, and cheeses; a caprese salad drizzled with flavorful balsamic vinegar; and a large gourmet pizza topped with bocconcini cheese balls, grilled zucchini, and eggplant.
Needless to say, the meal was to die for! I sampled a little of each food and Anne stuffed herself with everything.
Unfortunately, she ended up with a stomach pain after eating. In particular, she experienced cramping in her abdominal area—so much so that she couldn’t move for several minutes.
“I guess the food really was to die for,” she joked.
Causes of Stomach Pain after Eating
There can be multiple causes of stomach pain after eating. Some people are so used to binging through every meal that a stomachache almost becomes part of their daily lives. “It’s just a tummy ache,” you might say.
Yes, the little “tummy ache” could be attributed to eating too much or too fast, but it could also be a sign of a more serious health problem. Let’s take a look at the possible causes of stomach pain after eating:
1. Overeating: Stomach pain can result when you consume your food too fast. When you overeat, you might not take the time to chew through your food properly and you might notice that the food generally disappears from your plate very quickly.
2. Food intolerances: It is estimated that up to 20% of the population is intolerant or sensitive to certain foods. Stomach pain and cramping are common symptoms of food intolerances or sensitivities, which are often associated with dairy, gluten, nuts, yeast, and tomatoes.
3. Food allergies: Dairy products, nuts, eggs, peanut butter, soy, corn, wheat, and gluten are common food allergies that can cause symptoms such as stomach pain. A food elimination diet or an allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody test can be conducted to determine whether you are allergic to a particular food or substance.
4. Celiac disease: Stomach pain is a common symptom of celiac disease. The condition is characterized by gluten sensitivity. People with celiac disease will immediately react to a specific protein found in gluten called gliadin—it is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, oats, and Kamut.
5. Irritable bowel syndrome: This is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects approximately 15% of the population. Some symptoms include gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, abdominal pain, or stomach pain after eating. Candida, food allergies, and food sensitivities are also associated with irritable bowel syndrome.
6. Pancreatitis: Stomach pain after eating can also indicate pancreatitis, especially when the pain lasts for over six hours. Pancreatitis is known as pancreas inflammation. People with pancreatitis will experience pain that begins around the upper abdomen; the pain will then spread to the back. Other pancreatitis symptoms include fever, nausea, and vomiting.
7. Diverticulitis: Diverticulitis is a condition where pouches in the colon become inflamed from bacteria. The pouches are also known as cysts or diverticula. Some symptoms include fever, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, nausea, bowel habit changes, and cramping pain, especially around the lower left area of the abdomen. Stomach pain after eating is also common.
8. Intestinal obstruction: When there is a blockage in your colon or small intestine, it can be difficult for foods to be digested properly. When you eat too fast, large pieces of food may not be broken down. A hernia or tumor can also lead to intestinal obstruction.
9. Chronic candida: Abdominal pain can also be a symptom of chronic candida—a condition also known as yeast overgrowth. Other common symptoms associated with candida include chronic fatigue, bloating, gas, and depression.
10. Heartburn: Heartburn is also sometimes referred to as acid reflux, or acid indigestion. Heartburn is the result of too little stomach acid, and it can produce burning chest pain after eating. The pain may only last a few minutes, or up to several hours.
Stomach pain after eating can also be attributed to gallstones, eating spicy foods, a stomach flu, lactose intolerance, food poisoning, appendicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, Crohn’s disease, and peptic ulcers. Stomach pain after eating may also be the result of a blocked blood vessel.
How to Treat Stomach Pain after Eating
1. Digestive enzymes: Digestive enzymes can help relieve gas, bloating, and stomach pain after eating, or if you have diverticulitis, food sensitivities, chronic stress, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis. For best results, take one to three digestive enzymes after a meal.
2. Betaine HCL: Many people will mistake low stomach acid for heartburn. When there is low stomach acid, there are also problems with nutrient absorption. Stomach acid or hydrochloric acid is necessary to activate pepsin, the enzyme responsible for protein digestion. Betaine HCL is a common supplement for many digestive problems, such as food sensitivities, gallstones, candida, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease.
3. Peppermint oil: Peppermint is primarily known as a suppressor of indigestion. Peppermint essential oil is known to help relax the intestinal smooth muscle, and it may decrease symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome, as well as other digestive concerns.
4. Probiotics: Probiotics can help with irritable bowel syndrome, candida, diverticulitis, and other digestive problems. Probiotics help balance the gut bacteria and reduce the symptoms associated with poor digestion, such as gas, bloating, and stomach pain.
Other natural treatments include aloe vera juice, apple cider vinegar, lemon water, chamomile tea, and ginger.
When Should You See a Doctor?
Is stomach pain after eating a regular occurrence for you?
It may be time to visit a medical professional, naturopathic doctor, or holistic nutritionist. A stomachache after eating should go away after a few hours, but if your pain has lasted for more than a week or if a stomachache occurs after every meal, speak with your doctor.
Murray, M., et al., The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: Third Edition (New York: First Atria Paperback, 2012), 376-377, 757-759.
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 128-129, 210-211, 264-266, 586-587.
Rowland, D., Digestion: Inner Pathway to Health (Parry Sound: Rowland Publications, 2006), 31-32.
“Stomach Pain after Eating,” MDhealth.com; http://www.md-health.com/Stomach-Pain-After-Eating.html, last accessed June 9, 2015.
“Stomach Pain After Eating,” New Health Guide web site; http://www.newhealthguide.org/Stomach-Pain-After-Eating.html, last accessed June 9, 2015.