Reducing heartburn and indigestion over the festive season

by | Dec 3, 2014

I was asked by a brand to develop a Risk Rating Scale for heartburn and indigestion. This was challenging because people react differently, and there are no hard and fast rules about which foods or situations cause a reaction, with much of this being subjective. There is very little published scientific evidence on risk factors and how to prevent indigestion and heartburn.

Photo: Thinkstock

But, certain lifestyle behaviours can make you more prone… both heartburn and indigestion tend to be more common when we over-indulge, have irregular eating habits and are more stressed. Does this sound like you at Christmas time?

What’s Heartburn? 

Heartburn is acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid that is needed for digestion, escapes into the oesophagus (gullet). The stomach has an acid-proof lining, but the gullet is unprotected. Therefore, acid reflux can cause pain and discomfort, sometimes eliciting a feeling similar to nausea.

What’s Indigestion?

Indigestion usually occurs after eating or drinking. It is caused by stomach acid coming into contact with the sensitive, protective lining of other parts of the digestive system. The acid breaks down the lining, leading to inflammation, which can be painful. Some people suffer belching, “trapped wind”, or may feel bloated. It can also cause nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.

 Who’s at risk?

People who smoke, are naturally more stressed, or are heavy drinkers, may be more at risk, whereas an active, calm person who makes healthier food choices is likely to be less prone to symptoms. So, I developed a Risk Rating Scale that’s based on this as Part 1, which you might call baseline data.

Other behaviours such as eating richer meals and drinking more alcohol, which may be more temporary, may be easier to change over the Christmas period. An awareness of the factors that may make you more prone to heartburn or indigestion could help change these behaviours and reduce the likelihood of developing symptoms. This was Part 2 of my scale. Add up both your scores and you get a total score.

What your score means on the Risk Rating Scale

The higher your total score, the more likely you are to be at risk of heartburn and indigestion. However, different people may react differently to different situations and changes. Some may have all the unhealthy habits yet never suffer from heartburn or indigestion, while others will suffer after one heavy meal. And you may have a lower score than your partner, but your gut may be more sensitive, and hence you may be more prone to symptoms. But the scale is a good guide – and knowing your score can help you take steps to reduce your risks.

Want to see the scale? Contact me here.

Three Top Tips to help prevent heartburn and indigestion 

  1. Drink less alcohol – too much can irritate the stomach and make it produce more acid than usual.
  2. Have regular meals and take the time to chew your food well.
  3. Don’t have very rich, fatty meals especially shortly before bed; high fat foods take longer to digest and stay in your stomach for longer.

And, in preparation for your indulgent Christmas dinner, you might want to reduce the pressure on your abdomen by avoiding tight-fitting clothing! 



Note: the scale is based on anecdotal evidence and advice from reputable sources such as NHS Choices, and Drink-aware.

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