8 Ways to Fight Food Hangovers

Did holiday overeating leave you not just stuffed and sleepy, but bloated and stomach-achy? You've heard the term "acid indigestion" so frequently in advertisements that you probably feel you're an expert. But the term is used for more than one condition, so it's helpful to know what's actually going on in there. Consume too much of the wrong kind of food and alcohol, and your stomach produces excess acid, the source of that ache. Flatulence, on the other hand, is caused by bacteria in the colon, and may have nothing to do with indigestion. Heartburn is caused when acid backs up into the esophagus causing a burning sensation behind the rib cage. For help fending off a whole range of digestive discomforts, here are tips from Dr. Michael Cox, a gastroenterologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

1. Beware the Bedtime Snack. To avoid acid reflux, don't eat or drink--even water--at least three hours before going to bed. In the wee hours, the worst thing you can eat are foods containing fat. Say goodbye to that comforting bowl of cereal with whole milk, or the nightly ice cream indulgence.

2. Downsize. Consume small amounts at a time. Eat less and don't clean your plate if you feel full.

3. Slow Down. People who chew gum, smoke or are anxious and wolf down their meals tend to swallow air while eating, which leads to belching, bloating and the sensation of overfullness.

4. Down Some Dairy. A swig of milk can help neutralize acid and soothe mild indigestion.

5. Or Don't. Many people lose the ability to metabolize milk as they age. If milk products make you gassy or bloated or give you diarrhea, try products for the lactose-intolerant or avoid dairy. Some may also be able to eliminate indigestion by banishing fruit from their diet, while others thrive without wheat or gluten, a composite of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. Keep a food diary or examine your diet and notice which foods cause trouble.

6. Tea Up. Drink peppermint tea if you'd welcome a nice gas-releasing burp. Peppermint reduces the pressure of the esophageal muscle, which separates the esophagus from the stomach. Avoid it if you suffer from heartburn or acid reflux.

7. Be Proactive. Probiotics are combinations of friendly bacteria that help promote a helpful balance of good and bad bacteria in the GI tract. (It's estimated that more than a thousand species of bacteria live in humans, and some are better for us than others.) You can get different types of probiotics in yogurt, miso and tempeh (a soy product), as well as in supplements available in health-food stores and pharmacies. However, the latter have generally not been independently tested, so you don't really know whether you're getting live bacteria or the right ones. Cox recommends VSL-3, a powder doctors prescribe to patients with serious intestinal conditions, or Activia yogurt, available in grocery stores.

8. Watch for Warning Signs. If your indigestion is accompanied by a fever, nausea, or rapid weight loss--or if it lasts longer than five days, see your doctor. You may be suffering from an infection. And if your indigestion gets more uncomfortable or chronic, it may be a condition that needs medical attention. A condition called acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is caused by the same kind of acid backup that causes heartburn, but people with GERD can suffer from coughing, wheezing, a sour aftertaste or chest pain without any heartburn. GERD is most likely to interfere with sleep. If you get stomach cramps and frequently suffer from diarrhea or constipation (or both), you may have irritable bowel syndrome, which means your gastrointestinal tract works either more slowly or quickly than norm.