Carbonated water eases the symptoms of indigestion (dyspepsia) and constipation, according to a recent study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (2002;14:991–9).
Dyspepsia is characterized by a group of symptoms including pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen, early sense of fullness after eating, bloating, belching, nausea, and sometimes vomiting. Approximately 25% of people living in Western societies suffer from dyspepsia every year, and the condition accounts for 2 to 5% of all visits to primary care providers. Inadequate motion in the digestive tract (peristalsis) is believed to be an important cause of dyspepsia. Other gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome and constipation, frequently accompany dyspepsia.
Antacid medications—over the counter acid neutralizers, prescription medicines that block stomach acid production, and medications that stimulate peristalsis—are primary treatments for dyspepsia. However, antacids can interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients, and there is a possible association between long-term use of the acid-blocking drugs and increased risk of stomach cancer. Other healthcare providers recommend dietary changes, such as eating small frequent meals, reducing fat intake, and identifying and avoiding specific aggravating foods. For smokers with dyspepsia, quitting smoking is also recommended. Constipation is treated with increased water and fiber intake. Laxative medications are also prescribed by some practitioners, while others may test for food sensitivities and imbalances in the bacteria of the colon and treat these to alleviate constipation.
In this study, carbonated water was compared with tap water for its effect on dyspepsia, constipation, and general digestive function. Twenty-one people with indigestion and constipation were randomly assigned to drink at least 1.5 liters daily of either carbonated or tap water for at least 15 days or until the end of the 30-day trial. At the beginning and the end of the trial all of the participants were given indigestion and constipation questionnaires and tests to evaluate stomach fullness after eating, gastric emptying (movement of food out of the stomach), gallbladder emptying, and intestinal transit time (the time for ingested substances to travel from mouth to anus).
Scores on the dyspepsia and constipation questionnaires were significantly better for those treated with carbonated water than for those who drank tap water. Eight of the ten people in the carbonated water group had marked improvement in dyspepsia scores at the end of the trial, two had no change and one worsened. In contrast, seven of eleven people in the tap water group had worsening of dyspepsia scores, and only four experienced improvement. Constipation scores improved for eight people and worsened for two after carbonated water treatment, while scores for five people improved and six worsened in the tap water group. Further evaluation revealed that carbonated water specifically decreased early stomach fullness and increased gallbladder emptying, while tap water did not.
Carbonated water has been used for centuries to treat digestive complaints, yet virtually no research exists to support its effectiveness. The carbonated water used in this trial not only had significantly more carbon dioxide than does tap water, but also was found to have much higher levels of minerals including sodium, potassium, sulfate, fluoride, chloride, magnesium, and calcium. Other studies have shown that both the bubbles of carbon dioxide and the presence of high levels of minerals can stimulate digestive function. Additional research is needed to determine whether this mineral-rich carbonated water would be more effective at relieving dyspepsia than would carbonated tap water.