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An indigestion-free Christmas

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Christmas Dinner

It doesn’t matter how many times we have done it before and how many times we have promised ourselves that we won’t do it again, when it comes to the festive season, overindulgence seems to be the name of the game.

An extra glass of wine here and there and a few chocolates that we really don’t need and we start to pay the price. Christmas seems to be a time of onslaught for our digestive tracts and it’s not just our waistbands that tell the tale. Too many of us will suffer with bloating, indigestion and diarrhoea or constipation this Christmas but with a little forethought we could avoid all that.

It doesn’t matter how many times we have done it before and how many times we have promised ourselves that we won’t do it again, when it comes to the festive season, overindulgence seems to be the name of the game.

Coping with bloating

It surprises most people to learn that it is normal to produce between 200mls and two litres of gas in our bowel every day and some foods like cabbage, beans, onions, pulses and of course sprouts can mean the amount of gas we produce increases significantly. I’m not about to suggest roast turkey without the sprouts, but watching your intake of these foods over the festive season could help reduce bloating. It is also worth keeping an eye on the amount of fizzy drinks you consume (all that gas has to go somewhere) and try not to bolt your food.

Overeating can lead to bloating and it is easy to reach for second helpings before our digestive system has had a chance to tell our brains that we are full. However tasty your meal is, try to factor in a time delay of at least 20 minutes before you reach for the serving spoon a second time and you could save yourself from overdoing it.

But, if despite these tips you find you still feel bloated this Christmas, peppermint is soothing to the gut and lots of my patients have found that artichoke alleviates the symptoms of bloating effectively.

Preventing indigestion

Indigestion, or heartburn, is so common that most of us will suffer at some point and Christmas is often a difficult time for sufferers. Stress, rich foods and too much alcohol all make us prone to indigestion so it is easy to see how December can play havoc with our digestive systems. Planning ahead can really help reduce stress levels and I don’t just mean buying presents ahead of time or filling your freezer with food.

Invitations often come thick and fast in the festive season, so get into the habit of looking at your commitments before and after a particular date before you accept. As lovely as it is to catch up with friends and family, one long whirlwind of socializing can take its toll. Offer to do your fair share of driving which will ensure you don’t overdo it with the alcohol and if you are going to be drinking try to limit the amount you drink by alternating soft drinks with alcoholic ones.

Helping your hostess with serving the nibbles can be a great way of getting to chat to everyone in the room without having your glass constantly topped up and if you hands are full of platters you can’t pick at those high calorie nibbles either.

On the occasion where indigestion does strike, you might find supplementing with Milk Thistle, a Registered Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) helpful. Extracted from the fruits of the milk thistle herb, milk thistle has been proven to relieve symptoms associated with the occasional over-indulgence of food and drink.

Managing diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is a common symptom during the party season. Sometimes it is due to overdoing the rich food and sometimes it is linked to stress or occasionally is the result of food poisoning. Taking extra care with the preparation and storage of your food should reduce the risks here but if you are unlucky enough to succumb then it is important that you pay close attention to your state of hydration.

I use a simple rule to help assess whether or not you are becoming dehydrated and that is the colour of your wee – it should be straw coloured and if it is darker then your body is trying to conserve fluid and you should be drinking more. I am also a huge fan of probiotics for anyone suffering with diarrhoea whatever the cause. A probiotic is a mixture of live bacteria (usually from the Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium groups) which helps digest our food and keeps bad bacteria like those that cause food poisoning under control.

Treating constipation

We all react differently to changes in diet and for some people the Christmas break can mean their bowels seem to go on holiday too leaving them struggling with constipation. A change in diet and less exercise than normal play their part here.

Diaries are often packed with social engagements which can mean that normal routines are lost and the less active you are the less active your bowels are likely to be, so try to get mobile for at least 30 minutes each day. A brisk walk after your lunch has gone down can really make a difference and if you know your bowels tend to be sluggish, get ahead of the game by making sure you increase your intake of fibre. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables or add a fibre supplement to your diet to keep your bowels moving regularly.

So, there you have it – Christmas doesn’t have to be a miserable time for your digestive tract. Your gut does an amazing job, which we often take for granted so spare it a thought this winter and help it do its job well. And just one other thing – it is common to suffer from bloating, indigestion, diarrhoea or constipation at this time of year but all of these symptoms should resolve quickly so if any of them persist, do get them checked out by your GP.

Digestion facts

  • Muscular contractions in the oesophagus are so strong that it is possible to drink a glass of water while standing on your head.
  • Stomach acid has a pH of 2 – similar to battery acid. The stomach is protected from digesting itself by a lining of mucus which is constantly replaced.
  • It takes food up to three days to travel from mouth to anus.
  • Our gut is 8-9 metres long. It is lined by millions of tiny folds to increase the surface area. If these were stretched out flat, it would need to be 2 miles long to do the same job.
  • In an average lifetime a gut will handle around 65 tonnes of food and drink – approximately the weight of 8 double decker buses!
  • Our gut contains billions of friendly bacteria called 'the gut flora' - in total they weigh the same as a couple of bags of sugar.
  • 9 litres of fluid enters our intestine each day from food, fluid and secretions. All but 100ml of it is absorbed in the colon.

Dawn is a GP specialising in preventative medicine, women’s and family health. She appears regularly on TV and has regular columns in various magazines. More from this expert.

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