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How to Enjoy the Holidays, Even If You Suffer from Acid Reflux or GERD

As you approach the holiday dinner table, your mom’s famous latkes or that delicious piece of crunchy turkey skin beckon. The problem is, you know a minute of pleasure now will cause hours of discomfort later because of your acid reflux or GERD.

You do some quick calculations to decide if it’s worth it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you plan ahead and make a few compromises, you can enjoy most of your favorite holiday treats without the pain and suffering. The following tips and information will help you minimize your discomfort.

The Basics of Acid Reflux and GERD

“Acid reflux is known by several names: acid reflux, heartburn, acid indigestion,” said Marguerite Sheipe-Dunham, CRNP, a nurse practitioner and program coordinator at the Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery at Abington - Jefferson Health. “It occurs when the muscles that surround the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter, relax and allow stomach contents, like acid and bile, to ‘reflux’ into the esophagus.”

Acid reflux is a common symptom of GERD, a more chronic form of heartburn and can lead to damage to the esophagus. Symptoms of heartburn that occur at least twice a week for several weeks are associated with GERD.

“If left untreated, serious complications can occur,” said Sheipe-Dunham. “The esophagus was not designed to handle the constant irritation that is caused by the presence of acid and bile.”

Barrett’s esophagus is a precancerous condition that can occur in the esophagus as a result of untreated reflux, which can lead to esophageal cancer. While the potential of developing cancer is low, there are risk factors that increase this risk. Obesity is one of the risk factors noted in the development of cancer.

Avoiding the Trigger Foods at the Holidays

Some common foods increase heartburn symptoms. Avoiding the following can help reduce your discomfort:

  • Spicy foods such as citrus, tomato sauces and vinegar
  • Fatty foods that linger and increase pressure in the stomach, which can force acid into the esophagus
  • Chocolate, caffeine, onions, peppermint, carbonated drinks and alcohol

Strategies and foods that can help:

  • Use fresh instead of dried herbs to reduce irritation
  • Cut or reduce the fat in sauces, or use low-fat yogurt blended with cucumber and basil instead
  • Sauté vegetables in olive oil or make a simple pesto sauce with basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese as a low-fat alternative to sauces
  • Roast or broil vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, squash and Brussels sprouts

What if You “Cheat” During the Holidays?

“There are over-the-counter medications can be taken beforehand to minimize heartburn after a meal,” said Sheipe-Dunham. “This class of medications, called Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI), turns off the pumps in the stomach that make acid and are best taken on an empty stomach.

Allowing two to three hours to pass after a meal before going to bed will also decrease heartburn symptoms. When you do lie down, try keeping stomach acids in the stomach by raising the head of your bed.

You can also try chewing gum after meals to stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize stomach acids and increases the process that moves stomach contents into the intestines. You should also follow meals with a small glass of water to dilute and wash down stomach acids.

Enjoy the holidays, follow these tips, and make sure to see your doctor if acid reflux occurs more than once a week.

Reviewed by Marguerite Sheipe-Dunham, CRNP on December 12, 2019

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