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Your Acid Reflux Can Flare over the Holidays. Here’s How to Cope

You might find that, for most of the year, it’s easy to control your acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). But when the holiday season rolls around, your symptoms may flare. You may notice heartburn, difficulty swallowing, regurgitation or the feeling that you have a lump in your throat.

“A lot of the goodies that come along with the holidays are the foods that bring on symptoms,” said Nicole Hahn, RD, a clinical dietitian at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.

Here are some of the seasonal foods that could cause your GERD symptoms to flare. “However, keep in mind, not all foods will trigger symptoms in all people with GERD,” Hahn said.

Peppermint

Foods like candy canes, mint chocolate and peppermint-flavored drinks can cause GERD symptoms. That’s because they relax the muscle that closes the opening between your esophagus and your stomach, which makes it easier for food and/or acid to escape the stomach. Peppermint can also irritate your stomach lining.

Chocolate

Chocolate contains serotonin which, like peppermint, can relax the muscle between your esophagus and stomach.

Alcohol

In the short-term, alcohol can make your stomach produce more acid and make it easier for acid to travel up the esophagus. In the long term, alcohol can damage the lining of your esophagus and stomach.

Drinks that contain caffeine

It’s not clear whether caffeine itself triggers GERD symptoms. It could be other compounds in drinks that contain caffeine that are problematic, or it could be the combination of those compounds and caffeine. In any case, drinks that contain caffeine can cause GERD symptoms by increasing a hormone that causes the opening between the esophagus and the stomach to stay open when it should be closed.

Spicy and high-fat foods

Spicy or peppery foods can irritate the stomach and slow down digestion. Foods high in fat, like whole milk or cream, cured meats, fried foods and pastries, can empty out of your stomach more slowly, allowing stomach acid to creep back up into the esophagus.

Fruits and veggies

While fruits and vegetables are good choices for a healthy diet, some can trigger GERD symptoms. Citrus fruits, tomatoes and other fruits and veggies that are high in acid can increase the acid levels in your stomach. Root vegetables, green bananas, raw potatoes and other foods high in fermentable fiber increase gas production and make it more likely you will burp, which increases the odds of GERD.

Foods that can help relieve GERD symptoms

Some foods can help alleviate the heartburn, regurgitation and other symptoms that can come from GERD. Hahn said your symptoms might ease when you eat:

  • Ginger
  • Ripe bananas
  • Melons
  • Green vegetables
  • Oatmeal
  • Grains
  • Cooked potatoes

You can also try hard candies or lozenges—they help you produce more saliva, which can neutralize stomach acid.

How to treat GERD

You may find you can keep your symptoms at bay if you raise the head of your bed when you sleep, don’t eat close to bedtime and lose weight if you’re overweight. Antacids and over-the-counter medications can also help short-term. If you’re not finding relief, your doctor can recommend prescription medications.

The bottom line

A lot of foods that are popular during the holiday season can make your GERD symptoms worse. But avoiding food triggers, choosing foods that alleviate symptoms, making lifestyle changes and taking medication can help you feel better. If you would like to talk to a health care professional about managing GERD, Banner Health can help.

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