July 24, 2014
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Seasonal Health

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Heartburn and the holidays

Heartburn never gets invited to anyone's holiday parties. But the burning pain still shows up to many a feast and celebration. That's because the winter holidays overflow with heartburn-causing foods, drinks, and habits.

Leave the party-pooping indigestion at home this season by avoiding or simply minimizing these 6 sources of holiday heartburn:

Fat-filled foods: Put down that gravy boat! Festive but high-fat foods - like fried latkes, eggnog, cocktail weenies, and all sorts of creamy and cheesy treats - take longer to digest. This gives acid plenty of time to find its way back up into your esophagus and trigger that burning sensation. Share desserts with a friend or relative, take sauces "on the side," and prepare foods using healthier oils, lower-fat dairy products, and leaner meats.

The chocolate effect: You'll find chocolate everywhere during the holidays - wrapped in gold foil, coating pretzels, squeezed into flaky pastries, and spread across cakes. But like candy-cane peppermint, chocolate can relax and loosen your lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle that acts as a doorway between your stomach and your esophagus, allowing stomach acid to reach your esophagus and cause heartburn. Be choosy with chocolate, selecting your very favourite treat and savouring small bits rather than gorging and regretting.

Causes by the cupful: Sipping on cocoa, coffee, or tea by the fire sounds snug, doesn't it? Beware if your favourite cozy cup contains caffeine, which can activate acids and unsettle your stomach. Do the decaf thing and your LES will thank you for it.

Bad news booze: You're practically begging for heartburn when you pour alcohol into the holiday mix. Whether you opt for a hot toddy or spiked eggnog, drinking alcohol can relax your LES and allow acid to slosh back up where it doesn't belong. Alcohol also ups your overall acid factor and can irritate your esophagus. Drink moderately or dilute your drinks, and avoid gulping alcoholic beverages during meals. The large meal-drink combo boosts your heartburn risk even more.

Grinching out: All is not calm during the holidays, and the season's stress can take its toll on digestion. Too much tension may affect how smoothly food moves through your system or make you more sensitive to the pain of heartburn. But stress can also cause us to give in to bad, heartburn-triggering habits, like indulging in high-fat foods or relying on caffeine for energy. No matter how hectic the holiday season, give yourself the gift of balance by taking time to relax and to exercise.

Choking on smoke: A hazy holiday party can set heartburn ablaze, whether you're a social smoker or a non-smoker. Studies show cigarette smoke relaxes the LES and allows stomach acid back into the esophagus to set off a heartburn inferno. Smoking may also affect saliva, which usually helps to neutralize acid.

Certain foods and drinks are safer bets than others. Add these items to your anti-heartburn menu.


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