Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
Digestive Tips for the Holidays
Digestive Tips for the Holidays
As we enter the winter holidays, we find our social calendars increasingly busy with work parties, gift exchanges, family gatherings and holiday feasts. Gone are the light, crisp and refreshing foods of the summer as we welcome buttery roasted squashes, creamy mashed potatoes, tender roasts and decadent family recipes and desserts.
For anyone with digestive complaints, such as heartburn, bloating, abdominal fullness, pain, acid reflux or changing stools, these seemingly delicious and indulgent holiday feasts can make these problems worse. Luckily, there are well-researched tips to make the holidays easier to digest.
Heartburn or acid reflux makes enjoying the holidays difficult. Different medicines can provide temporary relief but usually do not treat the cause. To prevent and eliminate reflux all together, avoiding spicy foods, over-eating, and acidic foods, such as tomatoes or coffee, can help for many people.
Licorice root can also help decrease reflux symptoms and heal the stomach from the effects of too much acid. Other times, reflux is caused by too little stomach acid, which can be increased with apple cider vinegar (ACV) or bitter herbs before meals.
Some people who experience reflux, may also have upper abdominal pain, difficultly taking a full breath, or increased anxiety and bloating after meals. I commonly perform a gentle adjustment of the stomach, pulling it down and away from the diaphragm, that can stop the reflux and many other symptoms for weeks to months without medications.
Bloating or distension is a very common complaint, which may be due to small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or by not signaling the body for proper digestion. If SIBO is an issue, people may also have rosacea or eczema, restless leg syndrome, multiple food sensitives and changes in mood.
Bloating may also be caused by too little stomach acid, especially in people over 40 years old. Increasing acid production in the stomach before meals with ACV or bitter herbs will decrease bloating and also signal the gallbladder and pancreas to release their enzymes. Think of the stomach as the main messenger for digestion.
Other things that can decrease bloating are strong ginger teas and enteric-coated peppermint oil, which help promote emptying of the stomach and small intestine and move trapped gas. However, both ginger and peppermint can make reflux worse since it relaxes the valve between the stomach and the esophagus.
Changing stool from soft to hard or diarrhea to constipation can also be a sign of SIBO. It may also improve by consuming healthy amounts of water and fiber in the diet and by stimulating proper enzyme production, as mentioned before.
If stools haven’t been the same since gallbladder removal, consider decreasing fat intake, using bile support or activated charcoal at least thirty minutes after a meal. Stools can become loose from consuming too much alcohol or foods which may be irritating to the digestive tract.
The holidays can be a time of stress, worry and social overload. It’s important to take time throughout the year to check-in with ourselves on our stress levels and feelings of overwhelm. Stress puts the body in a fight-or-flight state, which greatly impacts digestion, mood, sleep and sense of well-being.
Each person has his or her own way of decreasing stress like walking, journaling, exercising, crafting or meeting a close friend for coffee. It’s important to find the ways that work best for you individually.
These tips commonly help most people find some relief from their digestive complaints. Take the time, while being patient with yourself, to find what helps you best digest this holiday season.
Crane Holmes, ND, Portland Natural Medicine, 503.239.1022, Dr.CraneHolmes.com