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Can Coffee Give You Heartburn?

Coffee…people have developed a love-hate relationship with this drink. More than 1 billion people around the world drink coffee every day. Are you one of them? If yes, then no matter what others say about coffee, you will still continue to drink it. Oftentimes, you would have more than one cup in a day. If you don’t drink coffee, you are probably easily convinced that coffee is bad for your health.

One of the common attacks against coffee is that it can give you heartburn. Is it true? To be honest, while doing research on the topic, I came across differences in opinions among health experts, medical researchers and health organizations. Are you ready to find out the truth? Let me present both sides of the argument.

Coffee and heartburn: those who said yes

In a report from Cleveland Clinic, 1 out of every 10 adults experiences heartburn one or more times per week. As a result, doctors would often suggest lifestyle changes. Doctors believed that food plays an important factor in the development of heartburn. What you eat or drink can trigger heartburn. Doctors would often give a list of food triggers to avoid. These triggers include:

  • alcohol
  • caffeinated products, such as coffee, soda, and tea
  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits
  • garlic
  • fatty foods
  • onions
  • peppermint and spearmint
  • spicy foods

Gastroenterologists, doctors who specialize in diseases of the gut and intestinal area, can help identify specific food triggers for each individual’s heartburn condition, but many believed that coffee was one of the triggers because caffeine had been known to relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), this organ prevents the backward flow of stomach contents that can cause reflux. As a result, they would not recommend coffee and tea to people with heartburn because it can lead to acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). There were growing concerns that some of the drinks we take on a daily basis were the culprit behind heartburn and GERD.

Since caffeine is the number-one concern, many health experts look into the amount of caffeine in popular coffee-based drinks. The Mayo Clinic compared different types of 8-ounce coffee and measured an approximate caffeine content:

  • Black coffee   95 to 200 mg
  • Instant black coffee    27 to 173 mg
  • Latte    63 to 175 mg
  • Decaf coffee   2 to 12 mg

In black-brewed coffee, the darker roast is believed to have lower caffeine content. Opt for freshly brewed coffee instead of instant mix or gourmet coffee, which has too much cream and sugar. These kinds of coffee can aggravate your heartburn, according to some doctors.

In another report, people who have symptoms of acid reflux were advised to avoid coffee as it can aggravate the situation by stimulating excessive gastric acid secretion. During digestion, our stomach releases acid to help break down foods so they can be absorbed by the body, but some doctors believed that if one drinks too much coffee, the caffeine content can mix with the gastric acid and can cause a reaction where some of the acids travel up to the esophagus. As a result, one feels a burning sensation in the chest area, known as heartburn.

However, these doctors also agree that coffee is not the only trigger for heartburn.

If you are suffering from heartburn, you should also avoid large, high-fat meals, especially 3 to 4 hours before sleeping. You should also stop smoking and avoid chocolate. Peppermint and spearmint oils, such as those used in candies and chewing gum, can also trigger acid reflux. You should also stay upright and avoid vigorous activity soon after eating. Additionally, avoid tight-fitting clothing, especially after a meal. Acidic and highly spiced foods can also trigger symptoms.

Coffee and heartburn: those who said no

I must admit, I am more inclined to prove that coffee is not the sole reason behind heartburn. I have been drinking coffee for more than two decades and my daily intake is about two to three cups. From my experience, I’ve never had acid reflux or heartburn, but there are two things that I do that may affect this. First, I drink the recommended daily water intake. Second, I eat a balanced diet of proteins, fruits, and vegetables. I guess these two habits protect me from heartburn.

Well, aside from my personal experience, I found several published medical research studies showing that coffee does not cause heartburn, per se.

According to the study published by the British Society of Gastroenterology, tobacco smoking and table salt intake seem to be risk factors for gastroesophageal reflux disease, which often begins with heartburn. Dietary fibers and physical exercise may protect against GERD and heartburn. Alcohol, coffee, and tea do not seem to be risk factors for acid reflux.

The researchers conducted a survey of more than 40,000 respondents from Norway. The response indicated that tobacco and smoking were the most common factors that contributed to heartburn and acid reflux. In terms of food, table salt is a leading trigger factor for those with existing acid reflux cases. There was no evidence that coffee was causing heartburn to the participants.

In 2006, a review of 16 studies assessing the role of lifestyle factors in GERD showed that modifying eating habits, including coffee consumption, did not affect symptoms of acid reflux. Further studies were done in Italy and Australia which also suggested that coffee consumption had no direct link to acid reflux.

In 2010, during the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, a paper was presented explaining that espresso, French roast, and other dark-roasted coffee may be easier on the tummy because these roasts contain a substance that tells the stomach to reduce production of acid. This can lead to more kinds of brews that are healthier and lighter.

“This discovery is going to help a lot of people who suffer from coffee sensitivity,” said Veronika Somoza, Ph.D. from the University of Vienna in Austria, and Thomas Hofmann, Ph.D. from the Technische Universität München in Germany, who conducted the study. “As coffee-lovers, we’re very excited about this research.”

According to PubMed, a number of studies have explored the effect of coffee and caffeine on GERD, but could not demonstrate that sphincter pressure or esophageal pH were affected. There have been no studies in which patients were instructed to eliminate coffee or caffeine and the effect on GERD was studied. In terms of spicy foods, two studies were performed that looked specifically at sphincter pressure and pH effect, but they did not demonstrate any effect. As with coffee and caffeine, there have not been any studies in which patients have been matched to controls and told to eliminate spicy foods from their diet in order to determine the effect on heartburn symptoms.

Heartburn is a serious condition that can lead to gastrointestinal diseases and possible heart-related risks. However, no one claims that coffee is the sole reason for heartburn and several researches have been done that did not see any significant increase in heartburn due to coffee consumption. Nonetheless, it is important to keep anything you drink in moderation.