Dr Deirdre O’Donovan.

Why the festive 'food coma’ happens to us

Most of us will be familiar with that feeling right after Christmas dinner, and you slouch on the couch, and you just feel like sleeping. It might be just the afternoon, but there is a science behind that nap.

The gut connection

Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Deirdre O'Donovan said our energy levels are profoundly affected by our gut health.

“This can be through several mechanisms. We are all familiar with that desire to have a nap after Christmas dinner, and that is because a high-calorie meal requires an increase in blood flow to the gut as part of the digestive process with an associated drop in blood pressure systemically and particularly to our brains, hence that sleepy feeling.

“I think there is a growing awareness that what we eat/the gut health has a direct bearing on our energy levels. I guess what I would be more worried about is people not spotting an underlying condition. If symptoms are not improving it may be a sign of a more significant process going on that needs medical input.”

The festive period tends to be a time for all the wrong foods, and while it's nice to treat ourselves, GP Dr Phillip Kieran says that our guts simply don't like sugary, fatty or processed foods and be more mindful of what we consume.

Dr O'Donovan says that meal composition is critical, and we want to aim for a nice balance of macronutrients to allow an easier digestive process.

Make simple changes

Dr O'Donovan recommends getting a good night's sleep, reducing alcohol and caffeine. She said getting regular exercise and eating a balanced diet also helps. Dr O'Donovan also said people should consider taking a probiotic like Alflorex.

Drink water, reduce alcohol and exercise

“Water is the healthiest thing to drink and is particularly important for gut health. It's easy to drink too much alcohol over Christmas, which can harm the lining of the gut and the balance of bacteria. Staying well hydrated with water can reduce some of this negative effect.

“Although we might enjoy having a few beers or a few glasses of wine to relax, our guts too often pay the price. Flatulence, bloating, and belching are all common effects of booze on the gut. One of the best things you can do is to instead hydrate with water,” he said.

“Exercise is that magic medicine that positively affects every aspect of our health, and our gut is no exception. In fact, there is evidence that exercise changes the bacteria in our guts for the better. It also helps prevent constipation and moves along with unwanted gas which can be an issue around Christmas time.”

His advice is to reduce junk food and try a probiotic.

“Try to avoid junk foods like soft drinks, biscuits, and chips. Also, make sure to get some fibre in the diet, this is so hard to do when we are surrounded with our usual Christmas fare. Instead, try to plan ahead and keep healthy snacks at hand. When you're leading a busy life and find that your bowel is becoming irritable, I'd also recommend taking Alflorex,” he said.