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Fighting the Discomfort of Holiday Indigestion, Heartburn

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It's that time of year again. The holiday season is upon us, which brings families together to celebrate ... and to eat. Turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce and all types of desserts will be on many dinner tables this fall. It will be delicious but the stomach will pain the price with heartburn and indigestion.

Many people will be experiencing heartburn - a painful burning sensation in the esophagus, which lies just below the breastbone. The pain often rises in the chest and may radiate to the neck or throat. Indigestion is a feeling of abdominal discomfort or a feeling of fullness, belching, bloating, and nausea, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Both heartburn and indigestion are symptoms of what could be a more serious problem - gastroesophaegeal reflux disease - commonly referred to as GERD, according to Dr. Rodney Mason. Mason, medical director for the Center of Heartburn and Esophageal Disorders at Midway Hospital Medical Center in California, says he sees more cases of heartburn and indigestion problems this time of year. GERD is caused by defective sphincter valve which causes gastric contents to reflux back into the esophagus, causing heartburn and indigestion, according to Mason.

``It (heartburn and indigestion) bothers people more during the holiday season,'' Mason said. One of the reasons he says is because people eat and drink alcohol at higher rates around the holiday season than at other times. The turkey and stuffing, along with mom's pumpkin pie, are all high in fat, which can cause problems in the digestion process.

``One of the problems with fatty foods is they slow the emptiness rate in the stomach,'' Mason said. The valve at the bottom of the esophagus - the lower sphincter valve - moves food into the stomach. If that valve, which is about three centimeters long, becomes defective by the slowing the emptiness rate of food into the stomach, gastric contents can reflux into the esophagus, Mason said.

There are medicines on the market today that try to stop the frequent heartburn and indigestion. Some of the products have been around for years.

``A majority of the products you see on TV are antacids,'' Mason said. Antacids are available without a prescription in liquid, chewable tablet, chewing gum and dissolving tablet forms to be taken by mouth. Liquid antacids may relieve symptoms faster than other forms of antacids, according to WebMD.

``Products like Maalox, Tums and Rolaids produce a chemical buffer in the stomach,'' Mason said. Some of the newer medicines in combating GERD are medicines available only by prescription.

Medicines like Zantac and Pepsid are known as 'H2 blockers,''' Mason said.These drugs block the stomach from making acid.''

But, not everyone thinks the pharmaceutical route is the way to go. In fact, according to practicing physician Richard Weinstein, the pharmaceutical industry is taking advantage of the unsuspecting public.

``There is a misconception that heartburn is the result of overproduction of acid in the stomach,'' Weinstein said. ''(Classic) heartburn is caused by too little hydrochloric acid being produced in the body.''

Weinstein said people eating too fast is one of the main factors that causes heartburn. ``Research shows if people eat a meal in less than 10 minutes, they are more than likely to get heartburn than those who eat a meal in 30 minutes,'' he said. Even in people's hectic schedules, Weinstein said just sitting down for a meal and chewing your food thoroughly could help the digestive process. He said there is a misconception that some spicy foods are the problem. Condiments like hot sauce and red pepper contain capsaicin - which could reduce indigestion by 60 percent, Weinstein said. Other foods like yogurt, pecans and cold water fish could help in the prevention of heartburn and indigestion, Weinstein said.

Pharmacist Barbara Morris from San Diego, Calif., said the best remedy for heartburn and upset stomachs is something simple - water. The idea is to dilute stomach contents and get it moving through and out of the system as quickly as possible,'' Morris said.Antacids do nothing to facilitate motility.''


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c.2003 Cox News Service

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