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Beat the Christmas bloat

How to look after your digestive health at Christmas

From turkey with all the trimmings to mince pies and a few glasses of sherry, a traditional Christmas dinner can add up to a lot of calories. And all that rich food and drink can put a strain on our bodies, especially our livers and digestive systems.

“Christmas is a time for overindulgence, both in terms of the quantities of food we eat as well as the quality of festive food,” says James Kinross, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at King Edward VII’s Hospital in London ( “A sustained period of unhealthy eating affects the microbiome, our intestinal habitat of millions of microbes, their genomes and their surrounding environmental conditions, which requires a varied diet in order to function properly.

Eating fatty foods and processed meats, like Christmas pigs in blankets, or having too much sugar, doesn’t give the microbiome the diversity of nutrients it needs, which can take its toll on the body. Drinking too much alcohol has a similar effect.”

“A diverse microbiome of friendly bacteria is important for our health because it prevents the growth of pathogens that cause certain health conditions, but the gut microbiome also regulates many of our essential bodily functions that are needed for wellness. The gut has proven links to several serious health conditions including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and may even affect certain mental health disorders.”

Battling the bloat

“A front-runner for post-Christmas complaints is weight gain and bloating,” says James. “Increased consumption of fatty or sugary food automatically slows down digestion, and an unhealthy gut causes symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and bloating. Bloating can also be a sign of food intolerances and autoimmune conditions of the gut associated with gluten consumption such as coeliac disease. More rarely it is a sign of inflammatory diseases of the gut, such as Crohn’s disease or certain cancers such as stomach and colonic cancer.

“If you notice you’re bloating very often, or if it is especially painful, you should go and see a doctor. You should also seek help if you are experiencing symptoms such as weight loss or a persistent change in your bowel habits.”

James continues: “Over Christmas, many people consume more alcohol than usual. Alcohol also disrupts the balance of bacteria, and it changes the way that they function, causing inflammation. This has important implications for the health of the liver.”

Gut-friendly exchanges

“The microbiome loves fibre, so aim to eat 30g per day,” advises James. “Incorporate a healthy plant-based diet into your traditional Christmas meals. Try adding vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, and if your Christmas plate of food has lots of colour it will be better for you. Have a fruit salad instead of mince pies or a Christmas pudding!

Prepare your own food and avoid takeaway or ready meals and try not to snack. Socialising is an important method that the microbiome uses to maintain its diversity, and this has been hard through Covid. But getting together to eat with your family and friends will really help.

Try and moderate your alcohol consumption and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water if you do choose to enjoy alcohol during the party season. The gut microbiome prefers red wine to beer. You should really start to feel the benefits of these changes in just two weeks too, which bodes well for a happy new year!”

Try this!

“Taking a probiotic each day can help to prepare your stomach for larger quantities of food, added sugar, alcohol and carbohydrates,” says Hussain Abdeh, the Clinical Director and Superintendent Pharmacist at Medicine Direct ( “Unhealthy bacteria do very well out of the common Christmas foods, so a supplement of good bacteria will help to deal with this potential imbalance.”

Four herbal heroes

Digestion, absorption and elimination are all central to overall health in traditional health systems like herbal medicine. Here, Lily Canetty-Clarke suggests four herbal allies to hold close this Christmas:

Chamomile flowers help to relax spasms and normalise digestion. This aromatic, bitter-tasting herb is a very accessible first choice to try for indigestion, wind, bloating, acidity and colic. It is anti-inflammatory for the digestive system but also a sedating, calming, antispasmodic herb which means it reduces spasms and pain, especially when linked to stress and nervous tension. As a digestive relaxant, drink chamomile as a tea three times daily. Make sure to brew your tea with the lid on the pot to ensure no medicinal benefit is lost to the evaporating water.

Dandelion root is a general digestive restorative bitter. It is one of the world’s most common and safest remedies to improve biliary elimination and relieve an overworked liver. It is particularly indicated for constipation and abdominal bloating and for skin disorders caused by weak digestion. As a liver restorative, take three cups per day of dried root in a decoction. Simmer in boiling water for 15 minutes with the lid on the pot.

Milk thistle seeds are known as the liver protector. Milk thistle is a hepatoprotective plant, meaning that it protects the liver by preventing and acting as a permeability regulator, preventing toxins from entering the liver cells. Grind the seeds and sprinkle on foods like yogurt for your daily fix of this fantastic liver herb.

Turmeric root is the gut spice. Taken internally, one of the many incredible uses of turmeric is for liver function and poor digestion such as dyspepsia, colic and IBS. It is particularly helpful when there is inflammation in the gut, and it has a beneficial prebiotic content for building a healthy gut microbiome. It is also stimulating to the liver, increasing bile output to help digest fatty foods. To support a more robust digestive system, drink a powdered mix of turmeric daily with milk and black pepper to increase bioavailability.

Lily Canetty-Clarke is a medical herbalist certified with NIMH (

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