THE DOC­TOR’S SEA­SONAL SUR­VIVAL GUIDE

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents -

Don’t leave home with­out it

Dr Sarah Jarvis re­veals the top fes­tive health woes that come up in GP’S surg­eries across the coun­try and how to avoid them

In­di­ges­tion

One of the con­di­tions most eas­ily ex­plained by the ex­cesses of Christ­mas is in­di­ges­tion. For most of my pa­tients, the hol­i­day pe­riod is a time when, from a healthy liv­ing per­spec­tive, all bets are off. An­other mince pie? Why not? It’s Christ­mas. Glass of fizz at break­fast? It would be rude not to. The burn­ing up­per ab­dom­i­nal pain of in­di­ges­tion is caused by ir­ri­ta­tion or in­flam­ma­tion of your up­per gut lin­ing – and, in se­vere cases, by ul­cers in the gut lin­ing.

A va­ri­ety of food and drinks have been im­pli­cated in in­di­ges­tion and heart­burn, and the list reads like a Christ­mas din­ner menu. They in­clude choco­late, al­co­hol, pep­per­mint, toma­toes, hot drinks, onions and spicy foods. Be­ing over­weight con­trib­utes, as do ir­reg­u­lar eat­ing pat­terns.

If you want to avoid in­di­ges­tion over Christ­mas, pace your­self. Come up with some lighter al­ter­na­tives to tra­di­tional Christ­mas pud­dings and pies, clear the ta­ble af­ter each course rather than leav­ing food out to tempt you and go out for a brac­ing fam­ily walk be­tween cour­ses.

Heart­burn

Just like in­di­ges­tion, heart­burn is of­ten down to ex­cess. It’s caused by in­flam­ma­tion of the oe­soph­a­gus, usu­ally due to acid from the stom­ach re­flux­ing back to­wards the throat. Con­se­quently, an­other symp­tom is an acid taste at the back of the mouth. Other

[con­tin­ued from pre­vi­ous page] symp­toms of both heart­burn and in­di­ges­tion in­clude bloat­ing, wind, nau­sea, be­ing sick and feel­ing full quickly when you eat.

Any­thing that re­stricts your stom­ach (tight party dresses, belts or waist-con­trol un­der­wear), along with large meals and eat­ing late at night, put you at greater risk of heart­burn.

To avoid it, have your last meal or snack at least three hours be­fore bed­time – don’t be tempted to make late-night sand­wiches. Use books to raise the head of the bed by 10-20cm (heart­burn is worse if you lie flat). Don’t prop your­self up on pil­lows – this causes you to bend at the waist, which can make heart­burn and in­di­ges­tion worse.

Colds and flu

Cold weather and cen­tral heat­ing can both dry out mu­cous mem­branes, mak­ing it eas­ier for germs to get through the lin­ing of your nose into your sys­tem. Add that to sneez­ing fam­i­lies con­gre­gat­ing in one room all day and it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that coughs and colds are com­mon at this time of year.

The ev­i­dence for sup­ple­ments like vi­ta­min C, echi­nacea and Kaloba pre­vent­ing colds is limited, but they’re un­likely to do any harm. Reg­u­lar ex­er­cise and a healthy diet have much more ro­bust proof where pre­vent­ing colds is con­cerned.

Of course, it’s not too late to get your flu im­mu­ni­sa­tion if you’re in an at-risk group. Do en­sure el­i­gi­ble chil­dren have theirs, too – they’re ‘su­per-spread­ers’ of the in­fluenza virus.

In­som­nia

Most of us have pe­ri­ods when we don’t sleep well, of­ten due to stress. It seems ironic that Christ­mas is a peak time for sleep dis­tur­bance when we should all be re­lax­ing. But where sleep is con­cerned, rou­tine is your friend, and that goes out of the win­dow over the fes­tive pe­riod when many of us don’t have to get up for work.

Go­ing to bed and get­ting up at the same time each day pre­vents your body clock get­ting out of sync. So if you’re hav­ing a drinks or din­ner party, in­vite folk early and set an end time. Don’t stay up for hours wash­ing up – in­stead, set an alarm to get up at your usual time (it’ll still be there!). Im­por­tantly, keep your al­co­hol in­take down – you may go out like a light af­ter a few drinks, but the qual­ity of your sleep will be poorer and you’ll wake early.

Headaches

Ten­sion, dis­rupted sleep, too much al­co­hol – the per­fect recipe for a headache. All the more rea­son for keep­ing stress to a min­i­mum – plan to have some men­tal down­time dur­ing your Christ­mas prepa­ra­tions and make sure you pri­ori­tise a few fes­tive early nights. Al­co­hol, of course, is a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to headaches, even if you haven’t drunk enough for a full-blown hang­over. Opt for a glam­orous nonal­co­holic cocktail so you don’t feel you’ve missed out. Oth­er­wise, a glass or two of fizz is fine, but al­ter­nate with soft drinks and don’t start too early. And be­ware ex­cess caf­feine, which can trig­ger mi­graines.

’Tis the sea­son to be healthy

A good night’s sleep is cru­cial to feel­ing well

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