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Don't Let Heartburn Ruin Your Holiday Feast
  • Posted December 18, 2021

Don't Let Heartburn Ruin Your Holiday Feast

Like Mr. Grinch, heartburn can crush your holiday, but there are easy ways to prevent it.

"Heartburn is caused by acidic stomach content moving into the esophagus, or gullet, which is much less resistant to acid," said Dr. James East, a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London. "This results in irritation and damage to the lining of the esophagus, literally a burn, that causes pain."

Some holiday favorites can be culprits. Eating large, fatty, greasy or spicy meals can trigger heartburn, as can onions, citrus fruits, tomato-based foods, and even chocolate and peppermint. Alcohol, fizzy beverages and caffeine can bring on heartburn, too.

Chronic heartburn is known as GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

So how can you avoid it and still enjoy your holiday celebration?

Taking antacids or even acid-suppressing drugs before eating can reduce heartburn symptoms, East said. But, he warned, don't use them to overindulge.

While these medications lower acid, they don't stop the regurgitation that can accompany reflux, so overeating can still lead to uncomfortable symptoms, East said.

"Moderation in both food and alcohol, and enjoying the range of dishes available from your host is a better strategy than additional medication," he said in a Mayo Clinic news release.

Reducing anxiety and stress might also help.

"Being stressed or anxious can lead to gut nerves being oversensitive where they fire off pain signals, such as cramping or bloating, at much lower levels of stimulation than would normally be required," East noted.

Techniques such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy or hypnotherapy can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Physical positioning also plays a role in heartburn.

"Classical triggers for reflux include a large fatty meal late in the day, with alcohol, and then lying down flat," East said.

To avoid heartburn, do the opposite, he suggested. Have your main meal in the middle of the day, don't eat within three hours of bedtime, avoid fatty foods, moderate your alcohol intake and consider raising the head of your bed.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on heartburn.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, Dec. 13, 2021

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