Holiday heartburn: what to do

Weatherwise, it doesn't feel much like Christmas here in the Midwest but the season is upon us and the day is fast approaching. Many of us will attend the usual Christmas parties with friends and co-workers making merry with too much food and drink; circling the punch bowl and grazing till we're stuffed, which is not such a merry feeling!

And there's that wonderful Christmas feast yet to come. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. We all have our favorite ''comfort foods'' that seem to keep finding their way on to our plates. For me it's mashed potatoes. I don't make them but maybe two or three times a year. Otherwise, well I might rival the Goodyear blimp! Those comfort foods end up not feeling so comfortable when waves of indigestion, heartburn and nausea set in.

Normally, a muscular valve that sits atop the stomach opens to allow food in and keeps food and stomach contents from leaking back up into the esophagus. Indigestion and heartburn that comes with too much food -- that intensely uncomfortable burning sensation in the upper chest that seems to come in waves about an hour after eating is clinically known as esophageal reflux. Because the stomach is too full, food refluxes backwards causing irritation and burning of the lining of the esophagus. Besides overeating, the consumption of too many fats and oils or foods known to relax this muscular valve such as citrus, chocolate, coffee, and alcohol can also bring on an attack. Smoking and significant obesity also contribute to heartburn.

While it's customary to automatically reach for a commercial antacid to neutralize the overly acidic stomach (what is thought to produce heartburn), in general these products have several disadvantages. First, they suppress the activity of pepsin, a stomach acid required to digest protein; and second, many products contain aluminum, a toxic heavy metal proven to be absorbable by the body from products such as antacids. Third, as some antacids primarily contain calcium carbonate, routine use of antacids can lead to excess calcium absorption, which in turn can contribute to kidney stones and other problems. Calcium antacids can also produce acid rebound several hours later, where the stomach secretes even more acid to compensate for the earlier neutralization of its acidity.

An herbal enzymatic approach can ease symptoms of heartburn without interfering with the digestive process. Naturally occurring enzymes added to a large meal will work with the organs of digestion to break down that large meal of protein, carbohydrate and fat that we have consumed.

Two herbal teas to keep in mind for indigestion are ginger and peppermint. I suggest ginger tea for my clients suffering from any kind of dyspepsia. To make ginger tea, boil two cups of purified water, remove from the heat. Slice from a fresh gingerroot two or three thin slices, add to the hot water and allow it to steep for ten minutes. Drink a Chinese teacup following meals for symptoms of indigestion/heartburn. Ginger, as well as peppermint, stimulate gastric juices, which is what we need to get the system up and running again. To make peppermint tea, add a few fresh peppermint leaves to hot water, allow to steep for five minutes and sip small quantities.

If you have majorly overdone it and nothing is working, try some activated charcoal tablets. The charcoal can absorb several times its weight in toxins binding it in an inert form so that it can just pass on through.

If you don't have fresh ginger or peppermint, check your spice rack for dried powdered ginger or oil of peppermint. Fresh is always best, but these will work too.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online December 4, 2001

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