Follow these anti-reflux strategies to avoid a painful end to your holiday meal.
The holiday season is a time well known for gastronomic excesses. Yet there are repercussions from these overindulgences. Eating too many holiday foods can lead to uncomfortable aftereffects, especially if you head straight to the couch. “People eat a huge meal and then they often recline in front of the television afterward, and that’s a good setup for gastroesophageal reflux,” explains Dr. Lawrence S. Friedman, who is the Anton R. Fried, M.D., Chair of the Department of Medicine at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Gastroesophageal reflux is the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, which leads to the burning pain in the middle of the chest known as heartburn. It occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter—a ring of muscle that normally prevents stomach acid from escaping upward—relaxes too much instead of maintaining a barrier between the stomach and esophagus.
Avoiding holiday heartburn
Overeating in general can cause a bad case of heartburn, but certain foods are notorious triggers, including fatty and fried foods, spicy foods, citrus fruits, chocolate, garlic and onions, alcoholic and caffeinated drinks, tomatoes and tomato-based products.
If heartburn is just a seasonal phenomenon for you, the easy way to prevent it is to use some discretion at mealtime. “The most important thing during the holidays is to eat sensibly,” says Dr. Friedman.
Eat small portions, trim the skin and fat from your turkey or roast beef, avoid fast-burning carbs like white dinner rolls and mashed potatoes, and have a few bites of dessert instead of the whole thing.
When to try medicine
For more bothersome or frequent heartburn, your doctor might recommend one of several over-the-counter or prescription medicines available.
antacids (Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids)
H2 blockers–—famotidine (Pepcid), ranitidine (Zantac)
proton-pump inhibitors—omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid), lansoprazole (Prevacid), esomeprazole (Nexium).
One of the best ways to reduce or eliminate heartburn is to lose weight. Being overweight is a major contributor to reflux. During the holidays, one of the best exercises you can do is to push yourself away from the table before you get too full.
For more long-term heartburn, you can try a few lifestyle interventions: