Incessant heartburn, characterised by a burning sensation in the chest and throat, can make holiday festivities quite unpleasant, but there are ways to manage it.
According to Pharma Dynamics, a leading provider of heartburn medication, a quarter of adults suffer from heartburn at least once a month, which is likely to be exacerbated by the festive season.
Marli Botha, Over-the-Counter (OTC) Product Manager for Pharma Dynamics, says the party season can become a marathon of rich food and drink resulting in bloated tummies and indigestion.
“Big meals overload the digestive system, leading to heartburn and stomach trouble. Fatty, greasy, citrusy or tomato-based meals can also trigger indigestion. Sugary treats, chocolate, fizzy drinks and alcohol – all of which will be in abundance this time of year –increase the amount of acid in our stomach.”
She explains that heartburn occurs when stomach acid moves into the oesophagus, which is much less resistant to acid. This then leads to irritation and damage to the lining of the oesophagus, causing a physical burn.
“While the occasional heartburn can happen to anyone,” she says. “Chronic heartburn, which is classified as having symptoms at least twice a week, does require medical intervention.
“Chronic heartburn is also termed as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Aside from the classic burning sensation in the chest, GERD may also cause a bitter taste in the mouth, coughing, flatulence, excessive belching, and wheezing.
“If GERD isn’t managed, it could lead to other health issues, such as:
- Oesophagitis (stomach acid causing the lining of the oesophagus to swell).
- Ulcers or sores in the lining of the oesophagus.
- Tooth decay (stomach acid can break down enamel, which can weaken your teeth and lead to cavities).
- Oesophageal stricture (over time, stomach acid can scar the lining of the oesophagus, constricting it, which makes swallowing difficult).
- An increased risk of oesophageal cancer.
“The best way to prevent and manage heartburn in the long run is by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, but this isn’t always possible over the festive period.
“Some of the ways to escape heartburn while still enjoying the holiday celebration, include:
- Avoid overindulging. Moderation in both food and drink is the healthiest approach.
- Eat more fibre as this will help your food to move more quickly through your digestive tract.
- Prepare your gut by taking antacids or acid-suppressants like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) before eating. Ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice. Many options are available over-the-counter.
- Don’t eat too late and don’t go to bed with a full stomach.
- Avoid food and drink that can trigger heartburn. Chocolate, caffeine, alcohol and soft drinks should be enjoyed sparingly.
- Eat slowly by putting your fork down between bites.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes that don’t constrict your abdomen.
- Wait at least two hours after a meal before you exercise, giving your stomach time to empty.
- Reduce stress as this can also bring on heartburn.
- Don’t smoke. Nicotine weakens the valve that separates your stomach and oesophagus.
Botha says maintaining a healthy weight can also relieve heartburn.
“Indigestion is a symptom that is directly linked to being overweight or obese. Anything that increases stomach pressure increases heartburn. Even a modest amount of weight gain can cause acid reflux.
“Food that are likely to stave off heartburn, include whole grains like oats and brown rice; sweet potatoes, carrots and beet; green veggies like asparagus, broccoli and green beans. Also incorporate food that are more alkaline, such as cauliflower, bananas, melon and nuts. Watery food, like watermelon, cucumber, celery and lettuce, also help to dilute the acid in the stomach.
“If your heartburn troubles continue to bother you after the holiday season, it’s best to speak to your doctor or pharmacist about the right treatment option(s) for you.”