While there are many food triggers for heartburn, it is not always clear what is causing this unpleasant sensation. Particularly during the holiday season, a common trigger is not necessarily a specific food but rather the large size of the meals that we enjoy. It is also a common myth that heartburn is caused by excessive stomach acid, when in fact many cases are due to insufficient stomach acid. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which normally prevents food from travelling upward, is sensitive to acid and stays closed when acid is increased, such as after a meal. If a person has low stomach acid, the LES becomes slack, allowing food to travel upward and cause heartburn.
It is no surprise that feeling bloated is more common during the holidays, since eating quickly and having large portions are major causes of bloating. Rich and fatty foods are another trigger. Fat increases the time it takes to digest a meal and results in food remaining in the stomach for a longer period of time. In some people, food sensitivities can cause bloating. Two common culprits are gluten and dairy, which are abundant in traditional holiday meals.
Stomach pain after eating is a common occurrence during the holidays, and can be due to many factors, including overeating, food sensitivities, and stress. The connection between our brain and digestive system, the ‘gut-brain-axis’, illustrates the effect our mind can have on digestion, and vice versa. Stress and anxiety can be the cause or the result of disrupted digestive processes.
Identifying the cause of digestive trouble is the best place to start in preventing discomfort. For some, stress management is important over the holidays; techniques such as deep breathing and eating mindfully can help us slow down and reduce overeating. Simple strategies to optimize digestion include squeezing lemon into drinking water and taking diluted apple cider vinegar with meals. Probiotics and fermented foods can help optimize gut flora, and bitter herbs and digestive enzymes can also improve digestion.
Certain herbs can be very soothing after eating; try herbal tea rather than a second glass of eggnog. Ginger is excellent at helping relieve nausea and an upset stomach. Peppermint and fennel soothe digestion after a meal, and cinnamon aids digestion while adding a pleasant holiday spice. For some people with digestive concerns, working with a naturopathic doctor for overall support is a smart solution to effectively treat you as an individual.