glenn ellis

Glenn Ellis

*Once the turkey is carved and the pumpkin pie has been savored, many of us are stricken with a distinct discomfort in our bellies or chest during the holidays. What you are probably feeling is called acid reflux, also known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Acid reflux is a common and chronic digestive condition caused by a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (the valve between the stomach and esophagus) that allows stomach acid to back up into the esophagus.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD or acid reflux, is a condition in which the liquid content of the stomach regurgitates (backs up or refluxes) into the esophagus. GERD is a chronic condition. Once it begins, it usually is life-long.

Heartburn is the number one symptom of acid reflux. If you have a burning feeling in your chest or a sour taste in your mouth, chances are good you are suffering from acid reflux. Other symptoms can include excessive belching, chest pain, problems swallowing, a sore throat, a chronic dry cough, wheezing, a feeling like something is lodged in your throat upon awakening, and foul or bitter-smelling breath.

The stomach’s first job is to accept and store the food that enters it. In response to the arrival of food, glands present in the lining of the stomach produce stomach acid (or gastric acid) – another digestive juice.

Muscles in the wall of the stomach help to move the food and acid around making sure that they mix thoroughly. Stomach acid helps to break down the food further into smaller, easier to digest fragments.

Some of the benefits of a good acid supply are:

  • needed for proper calcium absorption
  • kills bacteria and viruses etc.
  •  facilitates proper digestion of protein

What nature intended is that you eat enzyme rich foods and chew your food properly. If you did that, the food would enter the stomach laced with digestive enzymes. These enzymes would then “predigest” your food for about an hour — actually breaking down as much as 75% of your meal.

Only after this period of “pre-digestion” are hydrochloric acid and pepsin introduced. Once this concentrate enters the small intestine, the acid is neutralized and the pancreas reintroduces digestive enzymes to the process. As digestion is completed, nutrients are passed through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream.

That’s what nature intended. Unfortunately, most of us don’t live our lives as nature intended!

Processing and cooking destroy enzymes in food. (Any sustained heat of approximately 1180 – 1290 F destroys virtually all enzymes.) This means that, for most of us, the food entering our stomach is severely enzyme deficient. The food then sits there for an hour, like a heavy lump, with very little pre-digestion taking place. This forces the body to produce large amounts of stomach acid in an attempt to overcompensate.

A lot of people try drinking milk to ease acid reflux before sleep. But often, milk ends up causing acid reflux during sleep. To understand the whole situation, we have to realize that the problem roots from eating too much at dinnertime. Eating a big meal at dinner causes excess stomach acid production. Drinking milk could be a quick fix to the acid reflux problem. Unfortunately, milk has a rebound action and would eventually encourage secretion of more stomach acid, which causes the acid reflux. To solve the problem, try adjusting your diet by eating a small meal at dinner and have a small snack such as crackers before sleep.

Certain foods and drinks can trigger the symptoms and severity of acid reflux for holiday 
revelers. The main triggers are:

.          Overeating. By far the #1 trigger of acid reflux is overeating. We all do it and it causes the stomach to 
stretch and the sphincter muscle in the esophagus to relax. Even people with no history of acid reflux may 
experience it when overeating.

.          Caffeine. It’s a classic aggravating cause of reflux.

.          Greasy and fatty foods. Too much fat slows the process of food digesting and exiting the stomach. If it 
does not empty, it backs up in the esophagus. Limit intake of foods like gravy and stuffing.

.          Wine. Red and white wines have been shown to increase reflux symptoms. Both types are very acidic and can decrease lower esophageal sphincter (valve) pressures predisposing to acid reflux. Since we tend to consume

.          more alcohol during the holidays this can be a classic trigger.

.          Time of day you eat. Eating shortly before bed or nap time, especially fatty foods, may cause reflux. When 
you lie down the natural barrier created by gravity is eliminated, making it easier for stomach contents or acid to back up into the esophagus. Try to eat at least three to four hours before bedtime and if possible take a short walk after dinner.

.          Snack foods. Crunchy chips that we typically munch on during the holidays can be a source of extra fat and calories.

When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn. The fluid may even be tasted in the back of the mouth, and this is called acid indigestion. Occasional heartburn is common but does not necessarily mean one has chronic acid reflux disease. Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered “Chronic Acid Reflux Disease”, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems.

When you experience chronic heartburn, the first step to controlling your heartburn is to record what may trigger your attacks, the severity of the attacks, how your body reacts, and what gives you relief. The next step is to take this information to your doctor so the both of you can determine what lifestyle changes you will need to make and what treatments will give you maximum relief.

If you have been using antacids for more than 2 weeks, it is time to see a doctor.

While acid reflux can be a serious discomfort for many holiday revelers, there’s no reason it should prohibit you from enjoying the season and all it has to offer. Follow the above tips or talk to your doctor and you will be prepared for a reflux free holiday!

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!


The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.


Glenn Ellis,  is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and is  a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics.

His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine”, is due out in January, 2011.

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