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Keeping the Holidays Heartburn-Free

You've just finished your holiday feast, the feet are up, and the TV is on. Nothing like a little relaxation. But then it begins, slowly at first, until it picks up steam and becomes full-blown, oh no, heartburn. What can you do to avoid it this year? Read on.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

What's the scene at your house after that massive holiday dinner? Some camped out in front of the football game, others napping? All that overeating and lounging around is certainly the downside to the holiday festivities -- and it's a sure-fire recipe for indigestion.

"People eat more than they would during the holidays, and they eat richer, fattier foods that are slow to empty in the stomach," says David Peura, MD, associate chief of gastroenterology at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center in Charlottesville.

Peura is a spokesman for the National Heartburn Alliance, an organization dedicated to helping people find r-e-l-i-e-f.

Sitting around or napping after dinner -- watching football, the parades -- keeps all that food trapped. It may be relaxing, but lying down lets gravity give stomach acid an extra boost to creep into the esophagus. You know what happens next.

"Heartburn to most people is a burning discomfort under the breastbone," he tells WebMD. "It's the stomach feeling a need to vent."

Most cases of heartburn are brought on by foods high in fat. Chocolate, peppermint, citrus fruits, and tomato-based dishes also cause some people problems. Most drinks on the party circuit cause that rumbly-tumbly tummy, too.

To prevent heartburn, the National Heartburn Alliance offers these suggestions:

  • Save overstuffing for the turkey. Eat smaller portions and try to avoid overeating, since a full stomach puts extra pressure on the little valve that keeps stomach acid out of the esophagus.
  • Minimize late-night munching and after-dinner dozing. Merely being horizontal can encourage acid to creep into the esophagus and cause discomfort.
  • Choose wisely from the buffet table. Try to avoid your personal food triggers.
  • Add exercise to your holiday list -- it will get your digestive system moving. Get out and walk whenever possible, especially after big meals. Use the stairs when you can.
  • Drink in moderation. Caffeinated, carbonated, or alcoholic drinks can contribute to heartburn. Opt for a non-irritating drink.
  • Lighten up in your cooking. Use less fat in those favorite holiday recipes, substituting applesauce for butter in baking and broiling meat instead of baking; baste your turkey with a flavorful chicken stock instead of butter.
  • Don't wear tight clothing or belts -- it just makes heartburn worse.
  • Minimize stress. Plan ahead to avoid the last-minute holiday crunch. When schedules are packed, try meditation and other stress-relieving activities. Too much stress can make heartburn seem worse. Stress can also lead to other risky behaviors like overeating and drinking.

Instead of lying down after the big meal, take a walk with the family, Peura advises. "Go out and play a little football rather than sitting and watching it," he says.

By all means, if you're predisposed to heartburn, take one of the acid-lowering over-the-counter drugs, Peura tells WebMD. "And if you're on prescription medicine, this is not a time to forget taking it."

Originally published Dec. 3, 2001.

Medically updated Oct. 15, 2004.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 5:12:29 AM