Your festive health survival guide

20 November 2017

How to deal with the common Christmas problems of indigestion, stress, hangovers and lacking energy.

Indigestion caused by a surfeit of rich food and drink, hangovers, fatigue and family bust-ups are as common as Wham’s Last Christmas on repeat in shops at this time of year. It’s not surprising that Christmas scores high on the stress list. But you don’t have to succumb to festive health niggles. ’Tis the season to be jolly, after all. Follow our tips and have yourself a healthy little Christmas.

How to solve your Christmas health problems

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Soothe your stomach

Start right with a healthy breakfast

Kicking off the day with a good breakfast can help avoid digestive miseries. Avoid anything fatty and rich – you’ll be getting plenty later – and choose something plain, such as porridge made with water or milk and topped with berries, or a poached egg on toast with a tomato.

Walk off your lunch

Turkey, sprouts, roasties and an extra helping of pud can result in pain, bloating and reflux – something 30% of over-70s are prone to, according to consultant gastroenterologist Dr Anton Emmanuel from University College Hospital.

It takes four to five hours for all that food to pass through your system. So how to survive in the interim? ‘A post-lunch walk gets circulation moving, which, in turn, helps speed up digestion,’ he says.

10 healthy reasons for a winter walk

The ear massage that can help your digestion

Strange as it may sound, massaging behind your ear could help your stomach empty more quickly. Why? It stimulates the Alderman’s nerve – the auricular branch of the vagus nerve – which connects to the stomach and encourages muscle contraction and digestion. In the past, guests at lavish dinners thrown by City of London aldermen allegedly used this trick to enable them to carry on gorging.

Wear loose clothing

Tight waistbands put pressure on the stomach, increasing the risk of reflux. Save the slinky dress or tight trousers for another occasion and opt for something a bit more forgiving on Christmas Day.

Create a protective ‘raft’ for your stomach

Products containing sodium alginate, derived from seaweed, which form a protective ‘raft’ over stomach contents, prevent acid being regurgitated, the chief cause of heartburn. Some other common over-the-counter (OTC) heartburn drugs, such as proton pump inhibitors, have been linked with a higher risk of kidney failure.

Christmas by numbers

1,277,133 people attended A&E departments in England in December 2016.

47 house fires last year caused by Christmas trees, decorations and cards going up in smoke, with 20 non-fatal casualties.

6,000 the number of calories you could consume on Christmas Day alone.

27% of over-60s dislike Christmas.

Five number of pounds (2kg) you could gain over the festive season.

From pharmacies

Gaviscon Advance Peppermint Liquid, £8.99 (300ml)

Herbal helper

Cynarin is a plant chemical that helps soothe the digestive system and ease bloating after over-indulgence.

Schwabe Pharma Thisilyn Artichoke £7.99 (30 tablets), Holland & Barrett

Prop yourself up on a pillow

If you’re still feeling the burn come bedtime, prop your head and shoulders up in bed to stop stomach acid regurgitating while you sleep.

Help for hangovers

The stomach and liver shrink with age, meaning that alcohol is less easily absorbed and processed, so it sticks around the system longer. What’s more, as Dr Sarah Jarvis, medical adviser to Drinkaware, the alcohol education charity, explains, ‘Alcohol is distributed in body water, which tends to diminish as we age. For every glass you drink, the level of alcohol in the body is higher than for a younger person.’

Read our guide to hangover cures

Choose lighter drinks

‘Even if two drinks contain the same alcohol content by volume, darker liquors generally cause worse hangover symptoms,’ observes Dr Jarvis. ‘So-called congeners, by-products of the fermentation process, are thought to be the culprits.’

Pace yourself

The best way to avoid a hangover is to go slowly, interspersing water or soft drinks with alcoholic beverages.

‘Water won't make you any less drunk or protect your organs from the damaging effects of alcohol, but it will help avoid dehydration,’ says Dr Jarvis.

‘Eating a meal before you go out only delays the rate of alcohol absorption. If you do drink a lot, you’ll still get drunk.’

Check out Drinkaware’s free mobile app ( to keep track of how much you’re drinking.

Does cooking burn off alcohol? Find out


Most hangover symptoms are caused by dehydration, which saps fluid and mineral salts (electrolytes). Bottled water from Romania contains natural electrolytes.

AQUA Carpatica Still Natural Mineral Water 89p for 1.5 litres,

Love your liver

Milk thistle contains the plant compound, silybum, an antioxidant,
which may help protect against cell damage and support healthy liver function.

Solgar Milk Thistle Vegetable Capsules, £11.69 (50 capsules), Holland & Barrett

Rest and replenish

If you do wake up feeling the worse for wear, Dr Jarvis advises rest, drinking plenty of – non-alcoholic! – fluids and eating fruit, such as bananas and kiwi, to boost potassium, which is depleted by alcohol.

Clean up the sulphites in your drink

Sulphites are preservatives used to prevent oxidation and wine going off, but they can cause asthma, rashes, flushing, low blood pressure, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. The Üllo Wine Purifier removes sulphites.

Üllo Wine Purifier


Replacement filters, pack of ten


Soup it up

A thin broth tops up vitamins and minerals and is easy for a fragile tum to
digest. Turkey soup – bring it on!

10 healthy reasons to eat more soup

Say ‘No’ to stress

Curb expectations

‘The reason Christmas is so much more stressful than any other time of year is because we have so many high expectations of it,’ says psychologist and stress expert, Professor Sir Cary Cooper. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good enough. So what if that scarf you got in your stocking is hideous, or you don’t get on with your offspring’s in-laws? It’s one day of the year – relax and let it go.

Peace and joy: coping with Christmas stress

Laugh it off

Why not relive family mishaps with your relatives – or watch a favourite comedy DVD.

Get away from it all

Going for a run, walk or swim is probably the last thing you feel you need on a day when so much else is going on. But exercise really is one of the best ways to boost feel-good hormones and give yourself a welcome break. Get your 30 minutes in whichever way suits. Can’t spare the time? Break it up into ten-minute chunks.

Try this instant calmer…

…from Neil Shah of the Stress Management Society, a non-profit organisation.

‘Sit in a relaxed position and slowly inhale through your nose to a count of five, then exhale through your mouth to a count of eight. Repeat until you feel calm again.’

Have a nice cup of tea

A cup of tea really does help ease stress, according to research from the University of London. People who drank black tea were found to de-stress faster and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those given fake black tea. And that’s not all. Black tea drinkers also had lower levels of platelets, blood cells involved in clotting that increase heart attack risk.

The health benefits of tea and coffee

Love lavender

Research shows it helps ease the blues and quells anxiety. Sprinkle some essential lavender oil on to a handkerchief.

Miaroma Lavender Pure Essential Oil, £13.99 (30ml), Holland & Barrett

Try acupressure

For a quick instant energy booster, grip the fleshy pad between the joint of your thumb and index finger with the thumb or index and middle fingers of the opposite hand. Apply firm pressure while massaging slowly clockwise and then anticlockwise for three minutes.

Boost energy

Lighten up

Lack of daylight can trigger a bout of energy-leaching SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Lumie’s newest slimline light box has warm white LEDs to create a sunlight effect and help lift the blues and boost energy.

Lumie Vitamin L

Drink a glass of water

Thirst signals aren’t as strong as we get older so it’s easy to get dehydrated, which in turn can lead to an energy slump. Keep a glass or bottle of water by you and take regular sips throughout the day.

Boost vitamin D intake

‘Vitamin D is needed for the absorption of both calcium and phosphorus, which help the body produce energy,’ says nutrition expert
Dr Sarah Brewer. Vitamin D3 is the most easily absorbed form.

Super D Vitamin Blackcurrant & Apple Gummies (25mcg vitamin D3), £10.95 (90 gummies),, 0800 731 2377

Sleep right

‘Busier schedules, stress, and increased food and drink can lead to short-term sleep problems with the resulting next-day energy slump,’ says pharmacist Hitesh Dodhia ( Nytol Herbal Tablets with hops, valerian and passion flower can help you get a good night’s shut-eye, without next-day grogginess.

Nytol Herbal Tablets £3.69 (30 tablets), Boots, Superdrug, some supermarkets


Taken before bed, Benenox Overnight Recharge is a blend of honey, vitamin B6, needed for a healthy nervous system, and Sustamine, which boosts the body’s stored energy. This helps reduce tiredness, supports mental function and maintains normal energy production.

Benenox Overnight Recharge, £12.49 (135ml), Tesco, health food shops,, 01772 686231

Rediscover vitality

A book to add to your Christmas list. The Self-Care Revolution: Smart Habits & Simple Practices to Allow You to Flourish (£12.99), by psychologist Suzy Reading, has a wealth of advice on restoring your day-to-day energy reserves. Buy it from the Saga Book Shop.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.