THE DOCTOR’S SEASONAL SURVIVAL GUIDE
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
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.
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.
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.
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