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Four Tips to Prevent Holiday Heartburn

It's officially holiday party season. Here's how to indulge in all that booze and food—without wreaking havoc on your digestive system.

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Ah, good old December. Chances are, your schedule is rapidly filling up—there's your office party and your girlfriend's office party (ugh), plus get-togethers in honor of tree trimming, cookie swapping, ugly sweaters, and more. At least there will be plenty of food and booze, right?

But before you head out, remember this: wherever there are tables overflowing with desserts and drink...heartburn and bloating are sure to follow. Luckily, though, you can still enjoy the festivities this year without suffering. Just keep in mind these simple tips, says Gloria Grice, Pharm.D., an associate professor at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

  • Chew slowly to prevent bloating. Also, look for over-the-counter products that reduce bloating when taken before a meal, such as ones containing the digestive enzyme alpha-D-galactosidase.
  • Avoid caffeine, which can stimulate appetite and lead to overeating...that then, in turn, leads to heartburn and bloating.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines, as well as kill useful bacteria that help digest food in your intestines.
  • Skip the pie. Sugar, fruit or fruit juice combined with starches (such as in pie crusts) can ferment in your stomach and cause bloating. Also, cookies sweetened with fruit juice and fruit muffins and can cause similar problems.

And if prevention doesn’t work? Grice offers this advice on how to navigate your drug store's heartburn relief aisle:

  • Sodium bicarbonate or calcium bicarbonate both neutralize stomach acid—which causes the burning sensation.
  • Magnesium hydroxide (a.k.a. milk of magnesia) works quickly on stomach acid, but beware: it can act as a laxative if taken multiple times in a day.
  • Aluminum hydroxide has a similar action as milk of magnesia, but avoids the laxative effects. It can, however, make you constipated unless taken with magnesium hydroxide.

If your heartburn or bloating persists, or it occurs frequently, don't suffer like a dummy—contact your doctor. You could have a more serious problem, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and might need a stronger treatment to keep it under control.

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