Dyspepsia is a catchall term that includes a variety of digestive problems such as stomach discomfort, gas, bloating, belching, appetite loss, and nausea. Although many serious medical conditions can cause digestive distress, the term dyspepsia is used when no identifiable medical cause can be detected. In this way, dyspepsia is like a stomach version of the symptoms in the intestines called irritable bowel syndrome.

The standard medical approach to dyspepsia begins by looking for an identifiable medical condition such as gallstones, ulcers, or esophageal reflux. If none is found, various treatments are often suggested on a trial-and-error basis, including medications that reduce stomach acid as well as those that decrease spasm in the digestive tract. The drugs cisapride (Propulsid) and metoclopramide (Reglan) increase stomach emptying, and have also been tried for dyspepsia. However, cisapride has been taken off the market, and metoclopramide causes many side effects.

It's thought that stress plays a role in dyspepsia, as it does with irritable bowel syndrome. Interestingly, one study of 30 people with dyspepsia found that after 8 weeks of treatment with placebo, 80% reported their symptoms had improved.1 This unusually high placebo response emphasizes the emotional contribution to this condition.

In Europe, it is widely believed, though without much supporting evidence, that dyspepsia is commonly caused by inadequate function of the gallbladder.

Artichoke Leaf

An extract of artichoke leaf has undergone considerable study in the last few years as a treatment for a variety of conditions, most prominently high cholesterol. Artichoke leaf is one of many herbs thought to stimulate gallbladder function.7In 2003, a large (247-participant) study evaluated artichoke leaf as a treatment for dyspepsia.24 In this carefully conducted study, artichoke leaf extract proved significantly more effective than placebo for alleviating symptoms of functional dyspepsia. A study of an herbal combination containing artichoke leaf is described below.

For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Artichoke article.

Turmeric

The spice turmeric contains a substance, curcumin, that may stimulate gallbladder contractions.2,3 A double-blind, placebo-controlled studyincluding 106 people compared the effects of 500 mg of curcumin 4 times daily against placebo (as well as against a locally popular over-the-counter treatment). After 7 days, 87% percent of the curcumin group experienced full or partial symptom relief from dyspepsia as compared to 53% of the placebo group.4

For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Turmeric article.