Turkey with all the trimmings, roast potatoes, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, a glass or two of Chardonnay, after dinner mints, port, coffee…. The Festive period is an assault on our system that can leave us reaching for the antacid faster than you can say “I shouldn’t have eaten that.”
But, holiday heartburn is not a given and there are some things you can do to prevent yourself from experiencing that tell-tale burning sensation that lets you know you’ve overdone it.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn is actually acid from the stomach that is being pushed into the oesophagus, causing a burning pain. There is a muscle that sits between the stomach and the oesophagus which naturally weakens as we get older. This can allow acid to flow upwards more easily. Gravity helps with the digestion of food but when we lie down, as we may be inclined to do after a big meal, acid can find its way into the oesophagus.
Being overweight adds to this pressure, as does eating fatty food or overeating, which slows down the digestive process.
All of these factors are the perfect recipe for indigestion, which can be uncomfortable and carries risks of cancer if sufferers regularly sleep with heartburn.
Thankfully, there are a number of effective medications that can help to control heartburn. Most of us will be familiar with the chalky minty texture of over the counter antacids like Rennies which work by neutralising stomach acid.
Acid blockers, like Pepcid AC or Zantac, work by reducing the production of stomach acid.
For severe heartburn which isn’t relieved by these over the counter drugs, or which lasts for more than two weeks, your GP may be able to prescribe medications containing stronger doses of active ingredients.
If you are prone to heartburn or have been prescribed medication, a gastroenterologist can give you additional advise to manage your symptoms and help prevent problems from occurring rather than waiting until you start to experience the pain and discomfort.
There are other things we can do, too, to avoid developing indigestion.
- Learn to recognise when you feel full and get into the habit of stopping eating at this point so you avoid the bloated, uncomfortable feeling that comes from overeating.
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime – ideally stop four hours before bed to give your food sufficient time to digest.
- Walking after a big meal is far better than sitting or lying down as it helps you to digest your food and uses gravity to keep stomach acid in its place.
- Eat slowly and savour your food.
- Avoid too much rich, fatty food. This is not always easy at Christmas but try to have smaller portions. Using a small plate can help as long as you don’t pile it up!
- Get to know your guts. We all have foods that “agree with us” and foods that “disagree with us”. Eat the foods that are easy on your digestion… and don’t eat too much of them.
- Be careful what you wear. Tight waistbands can play havoc with our digestive system.
- Stock up on over the counter medication before Christmas as Festive first aid for you and your guests, if you need it.
Have a happy (and heartburn free) Christmas.