By Gabrielle Sellitti
Thanksgiving marks the start of all the holiday indulgences. What’s not to love about a holiday revolved around food, am I right? Foods that are richer in fat like creamy mashed potatoes and greasy Thanksgiving turkey drizzled with gravy can quickly trigger acid reflux. Unfortunately, the table only gets more buttery when you snowball on top the fried Hanukkah latkes and Christmas cookies that come next on the season’s calendar.
Physicians Regional Medical Group’s gastroenterologist, Michael Cohen, M.D., specializes in acid reflux or GERD, nutrition, and wellness. “A variety of foods that are associated with the holidays can be triggers for GERD,” Dr. Cohen states.
There is a muscle segment called the LES, lower esophageal sphincter, muscle in the lower part of the esophagus that acts like a valve. This valve opens to allow food that is swallowed to enter the stomach. The valve then closes to prevent stomach contents from coming up into the esophagus. Acid reflux generally occurs because of a malfunction of the LES. The valve either stays perpetually open, or intermittently opens at inappropriate times. Either situation can result in reflux.
Alcohol is known to cause a relaxation of the LES muscle and when weakened, acid can flow back into the esophagus and trigger a GERD episode.1 Make it a point to avoid alcohol or limit it to one drink. Your GERD will thank you for it. Drinking extra water can help you stay hydrated, as well as fill you up so you don’t eat as much. This also clears out the esophagus and reduces the chance of reflux.
“While we don’t fully understand why the valve malfunctions, we know that certain foods and beverages can cause the valve to malfunction,” Dr. Cohen states.
Sometimes it’s not what you eat, but how much you eat and when you eat it that can make the holidays treacherous for those who suffer from GERD. For example, lying down shortly after eating is a recipe for reflux.
Physicians Regional Medical Group’s General Surgeon, Jonas Mansson, M.D., adds to Dr. Cohen’s reasoning by advising not to lay down at least three hours post-holiday feasting. Lying down after eating can cause stomach acid to rise, which in return causes indigestion issues.
Dr. Mansson states, “Some tips for avoiding GERD occurrences are using white sauce instead of red if there’s pasta or pizza in your diet. If reflux persists, try drinking milk or even carry an antacid, like Pepcid or Tums, to help relieve symptoms of acid reflux.”
Dr. Cohen believes a person with very occasional heartburn does not necessarily need to seek medical attention. However things that can be red flags include frequent heartburn or regurgitation, a significant increase in symptoms, and what we call “alarm symptoms” such as swallowing difficulty, weight loss, or blood in the stool.
Dr. Mansson urges, “If you are having acid reflux daily and are taking antacids daily, it’s time to seek help from your physician.”
The good news is that people who suffer from reflux can help take control of the disease by watching what they eat. Foods that should be avoided all together include spicy and/or greasy foods, onions, tomato sauce, citrus foods, chocolate, peppermint, caffeinated beverages/food, and alcoholic beverages.
Dr. Cohen encourages that if you cook, some simple tips are to convert fried recipes to baked recipes to avoid the additional use of oil in frying. Also, many baking recipes can be made healthier by substituting apple sauce for oil or butter.
“I celebrate Chanukah and one of my all-time favorite holiday treats are latkes (potato pancakes). While they are delicious crispy golden brown, fried in oil, you can make a “reflux friendly” version by baking them and they’re still just as delicious,” Dr. Cohen describes.
Dr. Cohen and Dr. Mansson’s offices are located at Physicians Regional – Pine Ridge, 6101 Pine Ridge Rd., Naples, FL, 34119. Dr. Cohen is also located at Physicians Regional – Bonita Springs, 24231 Walden Center Drive, Bonita Springs, FL 34134.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call (239)-348-4221, or schedule online at PhysiciansRegionalMedicalGroup.com.