Understanding the Relationship Between Coffee and GERD
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, but for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) it can exacerbate symptoms. For most people, drinking coffee is something they don’t have to worry about, but there can be serious conditions that brought on by coffee, and GERD is one of them.
GERD affects around 20% of the adults in the United States, making it one of the most common digestive disorders. In this article we discuss the relationship between coffee and GERD, as well as different alternatives for those who cannot drink coffee.
What is GERD?
GERD is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder wherein the contents of the stomach go back up the esophagus. Because the gastric contents are acidic due to the gastric juices, this causes a burning sensation, also known as heartburn. GERD can cause a lot of discomfort; some people describe a burning sensation in their stomach and their chest, and it can even cause chest discomfort that can mimic a heart attack. Studies show that the average American experiences heartburn at least once a week.
The most concerning condition that can be caused by prolonged GERD is Barrett’s esophagus, which occurs in around 30% of people with GERD. A Barrett’s esophagus occurs because the gastric contents keep going to the esophagus, and as a result, the lining of the esophagus becomes damaged, thickens and is replaced by abnormal tissue. The abnormal tissue can be pre-cancerous which is why this can be potentially concerning.
Is Coffee Bad for GERD?
What does coffee have to do with GERD? Studies have shown that the caffeine in coffee can exacerbate reflux symptoms.
Caffeine was found to stimulate acid secretion in the stomach which is why it exacerbates symptoms of GERD. It has been shown to not only aggravate the symptoms of GERD, but it can also increase the frequency of episodes of heartburn. However, there have been no studies directly linking coffee or caffeine to GERD. Studies on causality also show mixed results.
There has also been no established effect of caffeine on the lower esophageal sphincter, the impairment of which is a key feature in the occurrence of GERD.
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3 Coffee Alternatives for People With GERD
Because it has not been established that caffeine or coffee directly causes GERD, there is no hard and fast rule that coffee is bad for GERD. However, looking at the data and the research, it can make reflux symptoms worse and may be better off avoided. Thankfully, there are many coffee alternatives that you can choose from.
1. Low-Acid Coffee
If you are finding it hard to eliminate all traces of coffee in your diet, you can try switching to a low-acid coffee blend. Coffee alternatives include low-acid coffee or decaffeinated coffee.
These variants have a lower level of caffeine in them. An eight-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains an estimated 96 milligrams of caffeine. Comparing this to decaf brewed coffee or instant decaf which only has two milligrams of caffeine for the same size, one can see a big difference. A one-ounce espresso decaf coffee has no caffeine at all.
Studies show that decaffeinated coffee showed less acid exposure time which is why it helped with GERD. If you are experiencing symptoms of GERD, you may want to switch to decaf and see if your symptoms get better.
Tea is a very popular alternative for coffee and can be mixed with other drinks.
An eight-ounce cup of brewed black tea has 47 milligrams of caffeine, which is half the caffeine found in the same size as regular brewed coffee (96 milligrams). Brewed green tea has almost a fourth the amount of caffeine as regular brewed coffee and ready-to-drink bottled tea has a fifth the amount of caffeine. If getting decaffeinated tea, the caffeine levels go as low as two milligrams.
This makes tea a good coffee alternative for people with GERD. Not only that, but some studies are also suggesting that the polyphenols in tea can be a protective factor for Barrett’s esophagus. However, more large-scale studies are needed to establish this.
Ginger Tea and Other Fruit Teas
Ginger tea and other fruit teas have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which make them good coffee alternatives. Ginger tea has been used in Asian countries for the relief of various gastrointestinal illnesses such as indigestion, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and gastritis. It has also been found to relieve flatulence.
Other herbal fruit teas are also used for the same ailments. These may help people with GERD symptoms.
People may risk symptoms of GERD when drinking coffee. To avoid these symptoms, try limiting the amount of coffee you’re drinking, how often you drink it, and make sure coffee is not taken on an empty stomach.
Consuming decaffeinated beverages can also be helpful. There are other coffee alternatives if coffee is bad for your GERD. By being mindful of what you consume, you can avoid worrying about the effects of GERD.
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- Pub Med (Ginger in gastrointestinal disorders: A systematic review of clinical trials)
- Pub Med (Gastric acid secretion and lower-esophageal-sphincter pressure in response to coffee and caffeine)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Caffeine & Long Work Hours)
- Pub Med (Update on the epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review)
- Pub Med (Association between coffee intake and gastroesophageal reflux disease: a meta-analysis)
- Mayo Clinic (Nutrition and healthy eating)
- Pub Med (The Changing Epidemiology of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Are Patients Getting Younger?)