Steak with garlic mashed potatoes, buttered green beans, and a side of an upset stomach seems to go hand-in-hand with your meal. After that, it will be chili, barbeque burgers, and ice cream in the summertime. All this involves loads of fatty foods that are prime triggers for stomach problems like heartburn and other digestive disorders.
The Heartburn Path Starts in Your Stomach
Breaking down the word heartburn, you might think it has something to do with your heart, but on the contrary, it begins in your stomach when acid backs up into your esophagus, the narrow tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.
Under ideal circumstances, once the food is consumed and hits the base of your esophagus, the esophagus works to keep the food down. However, when heartburn strikes, the esophagus fails to do its job and opens too quickly, allowing stomach acid to rise to the surface.
Most people attribute heartburn to certain foods such as chocolate, citrus, coffee, peppermint, tomato-based products, and spicy dishes because it generally happens right after a meal.
However, researchers have found little evidence showing that staying away from these foods provides relief. Instead, foods high in fat content tend to be the heartburn causing culprits.
“High-fat meals delay stomach emptying,” which gives stomach acid more time to back up, explains Dr. Lauren Gerson, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.
You can still enjoy your holidays and the special foods and treats that go with them by following a few practical holiday heartburn tips.
7 Ways to Enjoy Holiday Foods Without Heartburn
Start a food journal — Track what you eat for at least four days. A food journal will allow you to pick up any emerging patterns, determine the times you eat, how much you eat, and most importantly, any symptoms you may experience after meals.
Don’t deprive yourself of all the foods you think may trigger heartburn – Eat what you want at first, narrow down the foods that trigger heartburn symptoms, then limit how much of those foods you eat and stay away from them as you approach bedtime.
Get moving and eat right – Add plenty of low-fat, high-fiber foods to your daily diet. These foods have the best track record in reducing heartburn, while greasy, fried, and high-fat foods remain the worst offenders.
Just because it’s the winter season doesn’t give you the pass to gorge yourself. Keep yourself feeling full by eating several small meals throughout the day. Eat your meals mindfully to allow your brain to process that you are full. It’s just as important to walk, dance, or do some form of daily exercise. Research has shown that maintaining a healthy weight and exercising may help prevent heartburn. We recommend getting everyone up and off the sofa for fun, quick exercise, and stretching together. Resist the urge to lie down on the couch after eating — Instead, get up and do some cleaning or go for a walk around the neighborhood. If you still feel the need to lay down after eating, wait at least three hours before lying down or kicking back on a recliner to take in the football game. Lying down immediately following a meal is a recipe for disaster as it creates easy access for acids to flow through your stomach resulting in heartburn.
Watch your alcohol, chocolate, and peppermint intake — All three of these trigger reflux actions due to their tendency to relax the esophageal valve.
Fill up on some healthy snacks at home before attending holiday parties — This will reduce the chances of overeating once you arrive. Once at the party, position yourself a distance away from the hors d’oeuvre table to help with resisting temptations. When you make it to the snack table, put one or two small snacks on your plate at a time. Focus on spending your time at the party talking with others. That way, you will take the focus off of eating.
Don’t let family stress get the best of you — Since stress is a heartburn trigger, avoid getting in the middle of family spats and other stressful family drama.
When it is More Than Heartburn
When you have a stomachache, self-diagnosing tummy troubles as indigestion may seem reasonable around this time of year. But, digestive disease experts warn that it may be a sign that something more serious is going on inside your body — something that can’t be relieved by taking a few antacids.
Three conditions triggered by overeating that may be causing your symptoms of digestive dysfunction are gallstones, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as “acid reflux.” “Around the holidays, people are more likely to indulge in fatty foods, alcoholic beverages, and other temptations,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “And if they find that every holiday party they attend ends in mild but persistent abdominal pain, it may be a sign of a more serious digestive disease that needs immediate medical attention.”
Holiday foods high in unhealthy fats combined with alcohol and, in some cases, nicotine are a terrible mix for existing gastrointestinal conditions.
Gallstones – The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped sac located under the liver in the right upper abdomen. It releases bile that helps the body digest and breaks down fats. Gallstones form when liquid in the gallbladder hardens into pieces of stone-like material. One significant trigger for gallstones is a high-fat diet, which can throw off balance, resulting in the liver producing more cholesterol than the bile can handle. This excess cholesterol then turns into small, pebble-like substances called gallstones. Pain brought on by gallstones, including abdominal pain and nausea, usually occurs about an hour after a big meal.
Pancreatitis – Foods need to pass out of the stomach and into the intestine before the digestive process of enzymes breaking down your foods can begin. The pancreas’s job is to secrete enzymes into the duodenum that join with bile to aid in digesting food. Suppose a gallstone is blocking the exit of the pancreas. In that case, digestive juices start to back up into the organ, resulting in dangerous tissue damage and inflammation of the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis. Experts have linked heavy drinking of alcohol directly to the toxicity of the pancreas, which can lead to pancreatitis.
Acid Reflux – Acid reflux, also known as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), is a chronic condition characterized by a burning sensation in the chest and difficulty swallowing foods. It happens when the esophagus weakens, causing stomach acids to flow (reflux) back from the stomach into the esophagus. The constant backwash of acid reaction can aggravate the lining of your esophagus.
Experts recommend seeking treatment if you experience any pain for more than 30 minutes at a time. Ignoring symptoms of acid reflux can sometimes lead to more severe health complications such as erosion of the esophagus, bleeding, narrowing of the esophagus, or, in some cases, a potentially precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus.
Three underlying factors that can cause acid reflux/GERD are Helicobacter pylori (aka H.Pylori), Candida Infection, and food allergies/sensitivities. We can do testing for this at Dr. Bennett’s office.
Why Popping Antacids is Not a Healthy Solution for Tummy Trouble Like GERD
The typical treatment for GERD is antacids that neutralize stomach acid or prescription medications that reduce or block stomach acid production. However, stomach acids are critical for proper digestion, and if you don’t digest and absorb your food correctly, you will ultimately increase your risk for many chronic degenerative diseases.
Further, despite the temporary relief, medications designed to reduce acid may exacerbate the underlying causes of acid reflux and one of its most annoying symptoms.
The stomach acid insufficiency is made worse by neutralizing what little acid the stomach may produce. Then, in a desperate attempt to correct the problem, the stomach occasionally has a surge of too much acid, causing an uncomfortable burning sensation.
Also, reducing acid in your stomach reduces your primary defense mechanism for food-borne infections, thereby increasing your risk of food poisoning.
Many commercial antacids contain toxic ingredients such as aluminum, artificial colors, and sweeteners. These chemicals disrupt digestion and alter the structure and function of the stomach lining cells and cause side effects like headache, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Is There a Natural Solution for Treating GERD and Other Digestive Issues?
According to Dr. Bennett, there certainly are natural ways to store optimal function in your digestive tract and help reduce digestive disturbances. Using state-of-the-art lab testing, traditional Chinese herbs, whole food supplements from Standard Process, and MediHerb are three common product lines amongst others that Dr. Bennett uses. Dr. Bennett’s functional medicine program can also address many digestive issues, hormone imbalances, weight gain, fatigue/tiredness, and other issues. We use state-of-the-art lab tests to determine deficiencies or irregularities in the functional medicine program.