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What is the Connection Between Coffee and Acid Reflux?

Coffee can be a double-edged sword for those with acid reflux. Its caffeine content relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, potentially worsening reflux symptoms. Additionally, coffee's acidity may irritate the esophagus. However, individual tolerance varies. Wondering how your morning cup affects you? Consider monitoring your body's response to coffee and acid reflux. What will you discover about your personal health puzzle?
Matt Brady
Matt Brady

For a long time, it's been thought that sufferers from acid reflux and related ailments such as gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) should avoid coffee because it could worsen reflux symptoms by causing the stomach to increase production of hydrochloric acid. Scientific studies have shown that some coffees may indeed cause acid reflux, but not all. It turns out that, much as it might seem counter-intuitive, dark-roasted coffees may not produce acid-reflux causing stomach acids, whereas milder coffees do. Understanding what it is about dark-roasted beans that inhibits acid production may prove a pivotal key toward one day eliminating any negative connection between coffee and acid reflux.

Darker roasts naturally contain a chemical, called N-methylpyridinium (NMP) that blocks the stomach from producing painful acids. This chemical isn't, however, found in milder roasts. This finding, presented in 2010 at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, might help explain why an earlier study conducted by Stanford University found no relationship between coffee and acid reflux. Stanford's study in 2006 would have found no conclusive evidence that coffee and acid reflux are related—because not all coffees produce stomach acids. The Stanford study concluded that staying away from coffee wouldn't lessen symptoms of acid reflux, and that only dieting and elevating the head while sleeping could alleviate symptoms.

A cup of coffee.
A cup of coffee.

Oddly enough, there are good chances that many sufferers of acid reflux have turned to milder coffees in an attempt to quell heartburn. Rather than alleviating acid reflux, however, that intuition may have actually made symptoms worse. Drinking darker drip coffee or espresso drinks that contain NMP may be the answer to avoiding coffee-induced heartburn without having to give up the coffee.

Drinking a mixture of baking soda and water can help with acid reflux.
Drinking a mixture of baking soda and water can help with acid reflux.

By experimenting with mild roasts that contain NMP, researchers are seeking to change the relationship between mild coffee and acid reflux. If mild roasts can be brewed that contain NMP, future coffee lovers who cringe at the thought of dark roast might not have to change their tastes. For now, however, it appears that coffee and acid reflux can be avoided simply by sticking to darker beans.

Espresso contains N-methylpyridinium, which blocks stomach acid.
Espresso contains N-methylpyridinium, which blocks stomach acid.

Although some coffees may cause acid reflux, painful stomach acids are more often caused by overeating and poor sleeping habits. Straying from certain foods that can cause stomach acid; eating less and not right before sleep; and elevating the head during sleep are all proven methods of decreasing chronic acid reflux. Consulting a doctor is always recommended to get specific medical advice for how to treat a case of acid reflux.

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Discussion Comments

anon956100

Acid reflux in the majority of people is caused by low stomach acid. Bacteria in your stomach feeds on carbohydrates, and causes gas in your stomach. The pressure of the gas cause your stomach acid to move past your lower esophageal sphincter and into your esophagus, which causes the burn. Cut carbs from your diet and take a gas pill while your body adjusts, like beano and you will see results. I had acid reflux for over five years and lost my mother to esophagus cancer. This method is the only thing that worked for me.

farza

Heartburn is experienced when acid from the stomach passes back into the food pipe causing irritation and pain. Coffee and many other foods increase acid secretion in the stomach, but this does not necessarily cause heartburn; although for some people it might. What is recommended is to be aware of the foods that cause this and avoid it.

ccarbogast

I strongly believe that certain coffee roasts can cause acid reflux. I went to a diner and drank a very small 4-ounce cup of coffee and an hour later, I had massive reflux. I had the same experience at a large breakfast chain and with the coffee my mother in law makes.

I drink 20 ounces of coffee every morning at one place that doesn't give me heartburn/reflux. I never have it. I started keeping track of what I ate and drank during the day that I get the horrible reflux and coffee was always the culprit.

I went to the doctor because I started getting it every single day for several weeks. I realized that I had been buying coffee at a gas station every morning and reflux seemed to come an hour or so after I started drinking it. I skipped a few days with no coffee and the reflux went away. I went back shortly after to get the coffee from the same place and got reflux again. I had either yogurt and a banana or oatmeal and a banana for breakfast which is what I've been eating for years.

This reflux started about a year ago which was when I became a daily coffee drinker. So I strongly believe that certain roasts must cause reflux on me personally and other roasts do not. Just my opinion.

burcidi

@turkay1-- I don't think coffee causes acid reflux but it makes symptoms worse or more apparent.

When I catch a cold or if I have a sensitive stomach, drinking coffee makes me feel sick and gives me acid reflux and nausea. I know that the coffee is not the root cause of my symptoms, but that it adds to them.

Anyone who can regularly enjoy coffee without problems cannot attribute sudden acid reflux to the coffee. But it's also true that everyone is different and some people are more sensitive than others to coffee and caffeine. So it might not cause acid reflux for me, but it might for you.

When I have a sensitive stomach, I avoid coffee until I'm all better.

candyquilt

I had severe acid reflux for close to two years. During this time, I avoided not only coffee, but also tea, ketchup, lemon juice, vinegar, alcohol and all fried foods. All of these are acidic and would make my stomach worse. I would get stomach cramps and I couldn't sleep due to the acidity and would take tons of anti-acid medications.

I don't know what doctors have found in their studies, but based on my experience, no one can convince me that coffee doesn't cause acid reflux.

SteamLouis

I think dark roasts don't cause acid reflux because dark roasts contain less caffeine than light roasts. It is caffeine that aggravates stomach acidity.

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    • A cup of coffee.
      By: Feng Yu
      A cup of coffee.
    • Drinking a mixture of baking soda and water can help with acid reflux.
      By: Viktor
      Drinking a mixture of baking soda and water can help with acid reflux.
    • Espresso contains N-methylpyridinium, which blocks stomach acid.
      By: Alessandro Capuzzo
      Espresso contains N-methylpyridinium, which blocks stomach acid.
    • Darker roast coffee might be the better option for people with acid reflux who don't want to give up coffee.
      By: nebari
      Darker roast coffee might be the better option for people with acid reflux who don't want to give up coffee.
    • People who suffer from acid reflux may want to drink coffee that has a low acidity level.
      By: sinada
      People who suffer from acid reflux may want to drink coffee that has a low acidity level.