The holidays are synonymous with overeating, which can only mean one thing: an upset stomach or sour stomach. But shortly after the turkey, duck, stuffing, cranberry, sweet potato and baked goods go down the hatch, many Americans find themselves sitting on the sofa battling upset stomachs, heartburn, constipation or diarrhea.
What is it about holiday food that causes indigestion? And more importantly, are there ways to prevent and heal it naturally?
There are a few reasons why upset stomachs put a damper on the holiday season, but thankfully they can be treated with a number of natural home remedies you can employ quite easily. Let’s take a closer look at why you might be experiencing additional indigestion this year and the multitude of ways you can safely take care of it.
What Causes an Upset Stomach During the Holidays?
It’s hard to find someone who’s never had an upset stomach as a result of holiday eating. Even the most health-conscious eater has probably overindulged at least once—leaving them tucked in the fetal position on the sofa or making repeated runs to the bathroom!
If you look closely at what type of food is being eaten over the holidays, the upset stomach really becomes less of a mystery. You’re likely to experience heartburn, diarrhea or constipation because of:
- Large portions: People pile it on during the holidays for a few reasons. One is that it’s tradition: people are thinking big. The second is that these fixings usually only appear once or twice a year, so people may think they better consume the food while it lasts. The third is that there is typically an abundance of food. But unfortunately your stomach or digestive system just isn’t ready to handle all of that food. When you overeat, you’re increasing the pressure on the muscle that keeps food where it belongs, causing pain. It can also lead to a backup of food and acid in your digestive system, which leads to heartburn. Lastly, too much food can slow down your digestive system and cause stomach aches and constipation.
- Very little fiber: You need fiber to help keep things moving, but think of your holiday eating habits and you’ll see there isn’t much there. If you’re not getting a lot of whole grains, fruit or veggies, your digestive system isn’t functioning optimally. Also, the rich foods that make up holiday staples are often high in sugar and refined grains that cause inflammation.
- Stress: One of the ways stress manifests itself physically is through an upset stomach and indigestion, and the holidays offer no shortage of stressful triggers. And unfortunately common coping mechanisms include drinking alcohol and overeating—both contributors to heartburn and indigestion.
Effervescent Medicine for an Upset Stomach
One of the most common treatments for heartburn or upset stomach is effervescent medication, which are antacids. Many of these antacids contain sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda. Typically, adding a half-teaspoon of baking soda to a glass of water and repeating every two hours is a helpful dose.
But sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, is not always safe and certain populations need to be careful using it—or avoid it altogether. In fact, a study in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) found that effervescent medications can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular problems. The reason has to do with the sodium content, so if you already have heart problems or eat a high-sodium diet (high in processed food), effervescent treatment can put you at risk of a cardiovascular episode.
Treat Your Upset Stomach Naturally These Holidays
Thankfully, baking soda isn’t the only home remedy you can use for an upset stomach this holiday season. Here are ten natural treatments to settle your upset stomach so you can enjoy the holidays instead of suffering:
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory that comes in a variety of forms, making it very easy to take. Capsules and tea are the most popular options, and taking it just before or after meals can help relax the stomach to prevent pain and ease digestion.
Menthol is a natural pain reliever that’s useful in treating digestive issues. Sucking a peppermint candy cane may help, but you might not want all the sugar. Instead, try brewing a cup of peppermint or spearmint tea. Chewing peppermint gum may also offer some relief against stomach pains and nausea.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
On its own it can be a real shock to the taste buds, but this kitchen staple can be used to neutralize an upset stomach. Either take a tablespoon straight, or mix it with some water and a teaspoon of honey. Sit the mixture slowly for the best results.
- Whole grains, fruit, veggies
Include more whole grains, fruit and veggies in your holiday meals. Put some apples and pears in the fridge or include them in salads. Stuff your turkey with whole grain bread, or simply find ways to fit in whole grains, fruit and veggies throughout the day. The more fiber you get over the holidays, the more likely you can stave off an upset stomach and indigestion.
Drinking chamomile tea can have similar effects to peppermint because it relaxes the muscles of the digestive system. This can ease pain and help move food through you more easily. Drink a cup of chamomile tea around meals, up to four times per day.
- Eat less
If you don’t have to worry about stomach pain you don’t have to treat it; eating less can help you accomplish this. Control your portion sizes, eat slowly and remember, it’s not a race. There is probably more than enough food—the holiday season is also the leftover season!
- Rice tea
Brewing some rice tea can settle your stomach, prevent or even stop diarrhea. Boil half a cup of rice in six cups of water (I recommend using whole grain rice) for about 15 minutes. Strain the water from the rice and drink it. To add flavor, drop in a dash of honey.
- Carrot and mint juice
This is an odd combo that actually includes holiday flavor! Boil four sliced carrots in four cups of water and add some dried peppermint of a peppermint tea bag. Once the water has boiled turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for about 15 minutes (until the carrots are soft).
Taking a probiotic supplement or eating some probiotic yogurt can also help ease digestion. Adding and activating “good” bacteria in the gut helps with digestion and can potentially ease pain and prevent an upset stomach.
- Apply heat
Laying down and placing a hot water bottle or heating pad on your stomach can also help relieve an upset stomach. The heat can increase blood flow to limit inflammation and activate sensations outside your stomach as opposed to inside. It might mean you’ve got to take a break from the holiday spirit, but you probably could use a little down time, anyways!
Sources for Today’s Article:
Griffin, R., “Winter Holidays, Upset Stomachs,” Web MD web site, September 10, 2011; http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/diarrhea-10/winter-holidays.
Schofield, K., “Something’s Not Right Down There,” Healthline web site, October 13, 2014; http://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/natural-upset-stomach-remedies.
Jung, A., “Upset Stomach Home Remedies: 9 Natural Ideas,” Reader’s Digest; http://www.rd.com/health/conditions/9-natural-upset-stomach-remedies/, last accessed December 18, 2015.
Lawson, M., “Chamomile tea and digestion,” Livestrong.com, May 3, 2011; http://www.livestrong.com/article/434006-chamomile-tea-digestion/.
Ehrlich, S., “Peppermint,” University of Maryland Medical Center web site, July 6, 2014; https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/peppermint.
George, J., “Association between cardiovascular events and sodium-containing effervescent, dispersible, and soluble drugs: nested case-control study,” BMJ web site, November 26, 2013; http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f6954.