Health Watch By Steve Mullenix

The North Jefferson News

Americans celebrate with food and lots of it. With those big holiday dinners, parties, happy hours and shopping sprees, we all tend to overdo it.

So what’s the problem?

It’s a great recipe for a bad case of heartburn. Alcohol, caffeine and eating too much rich food is a direct route to indigestion. The holiday dinner is especially a problem. Once the meal is over, you move to the couch. That’s where the trouble begins.

The full stomach for the football game, lazy boy recliner and tilting stomach allow acid to spill into the esophagus. You know the results, that slow-burning feeling that works its way upwards. It’s acid reflux, better known as heartburn.

Heartburn is partly a mechanical problem. There’s a little muscle that controls all of what sits between the esophagus and the stomach. The muscle gradually relaxes as we get older. This means it’s easier for stomach acid to reach the esophagus.

When you’re standing upright, gravity helps keep stomach acid from migrating upwards. When you lie down (and especially when the full stomach is applying internal pressure) stomach acid gets pushed into the esophagus.

Excessive fatty foods means digestion slows to a crawl, which makes heartburn a virtual certainty.

So what do you do? Some tips to help control heartburn include:

• Know thyself: Know the foods that irritate your stomach, the ones that trigger heartburn, and steer clear of them. (For example onions, chocolate, citrus juices, tomatoes, soft drinks, coffee and alcohol)

• Don’t eat too close to bedtime: Stop eating four hours before you go to bed.

• Be selective: If you don’t like green bean casserole, pass it up. Eat what you really like in a moderate-sized portion.

• Savor small bites: Think of yourself as a wine taster. The first couple of sips are for tasting and savoring the flavor. Really experience the food. You don’t need a whole plate of coconut shrimp; just eat a few.

• Fix one plate and don’t pile it on: Ever heard of a smaller plate? You really want dessert don’t you?

• Ask for a to-go plate: Most hosts are more than happy to send some food home with guests. Really, how big is their refrigerator anyway. That allows you to enjoy it again the next day, when you’re hungry.

• Take a walk after dinner: It’s a good habit to get into because it helps the food digest, which prevents heartburn.

• Don’t wear tight pants: Tight pants can keep appetites under control, which certainly is a plus. However, they also put pressure on the stomach, which increases your chance of heartburn.

For the best results, take your heartburn medicine before the heartburn starts. Before sitting down to that big holiday meal or heading to the party buffet, follow these simple suggestions:

• Antacids such as Tums or Rolaids neutralize stomach acid to relieve heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion and stomach upset.

• Acid Blockers such as Axid AR, Pepcid AC, Prilosec OTC, Tagamet HB, and Zantac 75 actually block the stomach from secreting acid.

For severe heartburn that isn’t relieved by these medications, or for anyone who has been using them for more than two weeks, prescription medication may be necessary.

Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re comfortable and leave room for enjoyment.

Steve Mullenix (R.Ph) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with his wife, Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.). They can be reached at 631-1201.

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