Tackling Holiday Heartburn

All of our favorite comfort foods are included in holiday feasts. But why make heartburn part of the yearly tradition? This is how to tackle indigestion.

Americans enjoy lots and plenty of food when they celebrate. We are a sucker for big holiday meals, shopping trips, happy hours and parties.

What's the problem then? It's a big fat recipe for a bad case of heartburn. Drinking too much alcohol, caffeine and eating too many rich, fatty foods can lead to heartburn. This is particularly true for holiday meals. You're out of luck once you've finished your meal and moved on to the couch.

John Affronti MD is a Emory University School of Medicine professor of gastroenterology in Atlanta. "We all desire a full stomach before the football game starts." But when you sit down in your La-Z-Boy recliner you tilt the stomach, which causes stomach acid to leak into the esophagus.

The result is the slow burning sensation that gradually builds up. It's acid reflux, better known as heartburn. Sleeping With Heartburn Carries Cancer Risks.

The Mechanics of Heartburn Heartburn is partly a mechanical problem, Affronti explains. The little muscle between the stomach and the esophagus controls everything. As we age, this muscle begins to relax. This allows stomach acid easier access into the esophagus.

If we stand, gravity keeps stomach acid from moving upwards. If we are horizontal, and particularly if a full stomach applies internal pressure, then stomach acid is pushed to our esophagus. The internal pressure is only increased by extra weight around the waistline.

Also, excess fatty food means digestion slows to a crawl, which makes heartburn a virtual certainty, explains Affronti.

Taming the Heartburn Beast Run-of-the-mill heartburn is easy to treat, says Braden Kuo, MD, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

WebMD is told that holiday seasons are characterized by increased alcohol consumption, after-dinner drinks, sweets and over-stuffed GI tracts. "All these factors can make heartburn worse. You can treat heartburn with OTC medications or prescription drugs.

For best results, take your heartburn medicine before heartburn starts - before sitting down to that big holiday meal or heading to the party buffet, he advises. There are many choices.

Here are some over-the-counter heartburn medicines:

Antacids like Tums and Rolaids neutralize stomach acid to relieve heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach upset. This includes Maalox, Rolaids, Tums and Rolaids. Acid blockers lower stomach acid. Axid AR (Pepcid AC), Prilosec OTC Tagamet HB and Zantac75 are all examples. For severe heartburn that isn't relieved by these medications -- or for anyone who has been using them for more than two weeks -- prescription medicine may be necessary. Prescription forms of Axid and Prilosec as well as Tagamet and Zantac have higher dosages than OTC. Prevacid, Nexium and other prescription medications are effective as well.

8 Tips to Control Heartburn There's no getting around it -- to rein in heartburn, you simply can't eat so much, says Elaine Magee, MPH, RD. Magee serves as WebMD Weight Loss Clinic’s ‘Recipe Doctor’ and is the author of Tell Me How to Eat If I Have Acid Reflux.

Magee told WebMD that while it is difficult, once you start to eat only when you feel full, it becomes easier. You will find it easier to stop enjoying holiday foods. It's no longer uncomfortable to feel that way.

According to her, one trick is to only use small plates. People often set up appetizer plates at holiday parties. Don't put too many food on that tiny plate. "I've seen it done."

Magee has some more suggestions:

Be aware of yourself. Know the foods that irritate your stomach, the ones that trigger heartburn, and steer clear of them. They include chocolate, fruits, nuts, dairy products, and alcohol. Do not eat close to bedtime. You should stop eating 4 hours before bed. You must be selective. Don't eat green bean casserole if you don’t love it. You can eat as much or little as you like, but only a small portion. Enjoy small bites. Consider yourself a wine tasting expert. The first few sips should be for tasting and savoring. You should really experience the food. Coconut shrimp don't have to be eaten all at once. You can eat one coconut shrimp. Don't over-crowd your plate. A portion of dessert should be kept on hand. Request a plate to go. Many hosts will send the food to their guests at no extra cost. It's possible to enjoy the same tasty dinner the next day as long as you feel hungry. After dinner, go for a stroll. It's a good habit to get into, because it helps food digest - which prevents heartburn. Don't wear tight pants. Wearing tight pants may help to keep your appetite under control. But they constrict your stomach, which makes heartburn more likely. Magee says that she doesn't like to remind herself that it's necessary to lose weight or to be overweight or to manage my body. Magee says, "I believe that eating whenever you feel hungry is better than stopping when it's comfortable." It leaves you free to enjoy the moment.