How Coffee Lovers Manage Acid Reflux

For some people, coffee can be a trigger for acid indigestion. If you’re afraid that’s you, but you love coffee, there may be ways to enjoy coffee without suffering for it every time. Here are some tips about managing heartburn and some ideas for reducing the likelihood of experiencing acid reflux when you drink coffee.

Unique Trigger Management

There’s no single cure for acid indigestion. It’s likely that a combination of factors are contributing to each case of heartburn a patient experiences. There are also dangers of having chronic acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Be sure to talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing heartburn multiple times every week.

GERD, like acid reflux disease, is a symptom of damage caused when stomach acid comes up from the stomach into the esophagus. Certain foods and lifestyle choices are considered to contribute to GERD, however changing the diet to manage this does not have a lot of supporting evidence. Foods that may contribute include coffee, alcohol, chocolate, acidic foods, fatty foods, and spicy foods. Weight loss, moderate (but not strenuous) excercise and elevating the head of the bed may all help manage or alleviate GERD symptoms.

Learning to identify your triggers will help to reduce acid reflux. Try to experiment with one potential trigger at a time. If you suspect that coffee is a trigger, you may need to take a break from coffee, reduce the coffee you consume, or change the kind of coffee or brew system that you enjoy.

A Complex Cause

No two cases of acid reflux are the same. It turns out that the acidity in the stomach is determined by a variety of factors over a period of time.

Dietary Causes

For some people, the problem is too much acid. For example, if you eat a lot of sugars, unhealthy fats, and heavy foods, more acid is needed to break them down in the stomach. If you add coffee on top, you’re adding more acidity and risk acid indigestion or heartburn. Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco products are often considered triggers, especially when consumed in excess.

But high acidity can also be caused if you don’t have enough healthy acids in your diet. For some people, eating an apple, or even using apple cider vinegar in their salad dressing, can reduce their heartburn or help them to avoid it. This is because these are acids the body can recognize. If you have some healthy acids in your diet, your stomach won’t release as much acid when you eat meals. Some people even find that drinking a small coffee reduces the likelihood of heartburn along with a healthy diet.

Mechanical Causes

There are also many physical causes of heartburn.

  • Tight clothing, especially around the waist, can cause the pressure system of the intestines and stomach to be out of balance.
  • Bending over repeatedly after a meal can cause acid to leak back up into the esophagus, causing acid reflux.
  • Lying down too soon after a meal can have the same effect.
  • Eating too fast doesn’t allow the esophageal sphincter to open and close at a healthy rate.
  • Exercising too soon after a meal can cause heartburn.
  • And eating or snacking often can also allow stomach acid into the esophagus and cause heartburn.

Coffee Varieties and Brewing Processes That Reduce Acidity

Coffee lovers who need to manage acid reflux have discovered that there are factors that make a difference when they make their morning cup.

Coffee Types

First, find a coffee bean with low acidity.

  • The darker the roast, the better.
  • Mexico and Sumatra coffees are known to be lower in acidity.
  • Decaf, when processed with the Mountain water method, is lower in acid due to the water process caffeine extraction.

Brew Methods

The ideal method for people with acid reflux is the Toddy coffee brew method. Toddy makers reduce the oils in the coffee. Toddy makes a cold water extract coffee that is easy to make and is convenient and economical. And when preparing your normal brew coffee, make a single cup at a time and drink it fresh. The fresher, the better.

Want to Try a Low Acid Coffee? Our Recommendations:

We have a brand-new sampler we’ve put together for our customers that cannot tolerate high acid coffees. If you experience frequent heartburn or acid reflux, our low acid coffees may allow you to enjoy a great cup of organic coffee without the irritation.

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Low Acid Coffee Sampler

Here are some additional low acid recommendations:

Fair Trade Sumatran
Fair Trade
Sumatran
Half the Caff Blend
Easy Does It!:
Half the Caff Blend
Regular Roast Decaf
Regular Roast
Decaf

Conclusion

There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to kick acid reflux by never drinking coffee or by using these ideas. But it’s always worth a try and if you love coffee, you’ll be glad that you did.

 

(image courtesy Flickr / epSos.de)

Comments 45

  1. Stomach acid is actually extremely acidic, in the range of pH 1 to 2 with neutral pH being 7.0. It would eat through the stomach lining in no time if the lining did not have protective mechanisms like a mucus layer. Acid foods are much less acidic, and acid in the stomach does not illicit pain unless you have an ulcer or erosion of the stomach lining or duodenum. Heartburn is caused by acids in the stomach refluxing back up the esophagus because the valve/sphincter muscle at the top of the stomach is not closed tight enough to prevent it. Factors that weaken this muscle include caffeine, nicotine, chocolate, alcohol, obesity, a hiatal hernia, and hi fat meals. So its actually the caffeine in the coffee that is loosening this stomach valve, and allowing the highly acidic stomach acid to reflux up into the sensitive walls of the esophagus, and cause pain!! Bottom line, the coffee itself does not cause the pain.

    1. Thank you for your input, Dr. Marler! It sounds like you would agree, then, that coffee lovers with acid reflux can still consider decaf or a low-caff / half-caff blend?

      1. I have acid reflux and I am taking Tecta. Can I still drink Nescafe rich decaf
        while I am eating my dinner?

        1. Hi Lourdes – thanks for writing! Because you are taking a prescription medication, you should run any questions by your prescribing doctor. Since caffeine, alcohol, the nicotine from cigarettes, or street drugs can affect the action of many medications, you should let your prescriber know if you use them. Decaf coffee usually has a small level of caffeine, so this would be included in your discussion with your doctor. Best of luck!

          1. Hi Nancy – Decaf, when processed with the Mountain water method, is lower in acid due to the water process caffeine extraction. However, everyone is different, and we highly recommend making dietary decisions in consultation with your practitioner. Thanks for asking!

        2. For me even decaf will cause acid reflux. Things that trigger severe reflux for me are oranges, carbonated drinks coffee etc. Coke is the most dangerous for me. If I eat food I suffer pain in the night.

          1. Thank you for sharing, Eliphas. We can empathize, not being able to drink coffee! Glad to hear you are listening to your body and finding what works for you.

  2. Thanks Dr Marler for this wonderful information on acid reflux disease!Im an avid coffee drinker but also a light smoker.I recently attended the emergency room twice in one week for chest pain and difficulties with breathing.If i eliminate smoking along with acidic drinks and chocolate,is it safe to drink a noncaffein coffee?

  3. Rubbish. Low acidity in the stomach is the major cause of Heartburn and Acid Reflux and no I am not an M.D!! Firstly you need to find out the CAUSE of your reflux/heartburn. Shocking some of the information found on the internet.

    1. Hi Matt – yes, that’s why we recommend consulting a medical professional and learning what your triggers are for heartburn and acid reflux. Thanks for your comments.

    2. @Matt. I think you are slightly confused and perhaps agree with my fellow MD. Acidity is inversely proportional to pH, meaning the higher the pH of a particular sample, the less acidity is in it. The lower the pH the higher the acidity. The stomach always contains acids, somewhat less so if you are on a histamine blocker or proton pump inhibitor, but in the natural state it is highly acidic, and yes, when that acid finds its way through the upper esophageal sphincter it can cause pain, dyspepsia, coughing, hoarseness and of course esophagitis. You don’t have to be a doctor , but hopefully get the facts straight.

  4. Question for a medically trained professional or dietitian….aren’t there foods than neutralize bad acids? I heard certain vegetables HELP; also eating applesauce twice daily. Please give us your opinion. Thanks. PS: Do regular grocery stores carry these “better” types of low acidity coffees?

  5. Hi.. I have a question. I am a coffee lover and enjoy my morning latte more than anything. I have been on Nexium for over 10 years and am finally planning to stop taking it due to problems with side effects. I am looking for the least acidic options for my morning latte and wondering if you have any advice. I use an organic rainforest blend with soymilk at the moment but thinking of switching to almond milk or maybe goat milk? I do not plan on drinking coffee for the first few months but really would like to find the best option for future use. Do you have any advice?

    1. Hi Monique – Thanks for your question. Make sure you are drinking a freshly made cup of coffee brewed from a dark roast. You might want to try a coffee from Mexico or Sumatra. There are a few links in the article above to recommended coffees. You may also want to read up on alkalization of the body, and be sure to hydrate. Here’s another article on our site with more information on low acid coffee.

      1. I was under the impression the dark roast has less acid…and the website you recommend says dark roast, darker the better…(as in lower acidity).
        You mention several times a mild roast is best….isn’t mild roast and light or medium the same..please clarify…..

        1. Hi Rebecca – Thanks very much for your note. You are absolutely right. This was an oversight; it has been addressed and fixed.

          It is true that the darker roasts have a bit less acidity that the milder roasts. Not a lot, but a bit less. Acidity is a confusing issue with coffee. On the one hand, it is a desirable component of taste quality. That does differ from the actual pH of the beverage, which is what most people are interested in.

    1. Hi Doug –

      I’m not sure if Dr. Marler is following this thread. We did some research and found that certain foods can cause the valve/esophagus sphincter to loosen, however we don’t have the precise medical occurrence.

      Here’s some interesting reading from the Cleveland Clinic (PDF – link opens in new tab). An excerpt:

      The mechanics of swallowing

      In order to understand diseases of the esophagus, it’s helpful to know what takes
      place during the swallowing process. The esophagus is a muscular tube through which food and drink pass from the mouth to the stomach. It is designed to push food into the stomach. To prevent food from moving backward – a condition called reflux – muscles at both ends of the esophagus close when food is not moving forward through them. These constricting, ring-shaped muscles are called sphincters.

      The sphincters act like valves and must constrict in an exact order for normal swallowing to occur. The upper muscles stop food from moving into the windpipe and voice box. The lower ones prevent food and stomach acid from moving backward into the esophagus. Problems with the relaxation of the sphincter muscles can result in choking or inability to eat. Difficulties with the constriction (tightening) of the sphincter muscles cause reflux, which may result in symptoms such as heartburn or even damage to the esophagus.

  6. There are no conclusive findings that caffeine, coffee, or tea escalates GERD symptoms. One study suggests caffeine has no significant effect but metabolites in coffee beans are exacerbating symptoms; caf and decaf tea showed negligible effect than caf/decaf coffee (Wendl B, et al. Effect of decaffeination of coffee or tea on gastro-esophageal reflux, 1994, Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 8, p283-7). These are a few of the many articles you’ll find on either side, though I must admit I have yet to come across one conclusively stating that coffee instigates gerd symptoms.

    There was also a review and meta analysis studies done recently that showed lack of statistical power (lack of construct validity) and great variation in results to insignificant correlation between intake and gerd (Zhang, Y., Chen, S-H. Food Sci Technol Res, 2013, 19, 1-6; Kim, J. et al., Diseases of the Esophagus, 2014, 27, 311-317).

    I am personally addicted to coffee so I am making an effort to reduce intake. What I find concerning are medical professionals endorsing opinions that may not be true, at least for everyone, as they can be read as prescriptive. Coffee and gerd/acid reflux seem to yield subjective results for each individual, or we don’t know what coffee does, as of yet (btw there are at least 27 metabolites from coffee, some of which we know nothing about). One of them we know blocks adenosine receptors.

    I suggest everyone to experiment and see if a week without coffee helps, though if you are in my situation, reducing intake will work better to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

  7. I have been suffering from acid reflux for as long as I can remember. I was taking many antacids every day and night. I read a few days ago that by I have been taking away the acid rather than adding it all these years. When your stomach has too little acid it has to work extra hard to utilize what it has and swooshes it around extra fast resulting in it coming up into the throat. I read to add acid instead so that the stomach doesn’t have to work as hard. The advice was to take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar each day. I’m only on my second day and I have had very, very little acid reflux at all, and have had absolutely NO antacids!! I took 1teaspoon just before bed and not one bit of acid all night long! P.s, you must drink plenty of water straight after taking the vinegar.

  8. I went off ALL my medicine. I was on Nexium, nasal spray, allergy medicine. Way too may drugs in my opinion. Research Evamor water. My coughing and post nasal drip are 95% gone. I have LPR so it may be a bit different than GERD. But a low acid diet and the water have been a God send.

  9. I have recently been going through a bout of GERD. I have LPR also and I recently slipped and had tomatoes a few times and also started an exercise program. Right after all this, had most of my original symptoms that I hadn’t had since December 2014. Mainly I’ve been on and off my Omeprazole and have tried to stay off it for longer periods but now I’ve been back on it for almost 3 weeks. I’ve just got back on Azelastine Nasal Spray and have been on Fexo regularly. Getting better after a month or so and the cough has decreased but the sinuses are improving on a bit slower schedule. Have never felt worse in my life then when I’m going through this! Have to say though the coffee or tea has never really been a trigger for me as I usually will only have one cup a day of coffee. It only has bothered me after the other things initially triggered the symptoms.

  10. I have had acid reflex for about the last 6 months. Zantac seems to help some. My diet is really good and I eat an apple each day. I was on a antibiotic for 10 days then after about 2 weeks I was on a Z-pack for sinus infection. That can mess your stomach up, also. I have a Dr. appt in August. I guess I’ll try the apple vinegar. I love my coffee , but I cut back. And when I don’t drink it in the morning I break down in the afternoon and have 1/2 of one cup.

    1. Hi Barb – it sounds like you are listening to your body and doing what works for you. Hope our article was of some help. Best of health to you.

  11. I’ve had acid reflux for years. I still drink coffee,and alcohol. I’ve found a few things that work for me.
    1 Limit the length of the exposure. Espresso takes less time than coffee to drink. Beer has the same problem. Mixed drinks with ice are better.
    2 Use water as a chaser. This clears the irritant from the throat.
    3 If the throat is irritated honey, sugar, DGL tablets, licorice extract. I personally avoid PPI. Why disturb the stomach to fix the throat?
    4 Coffee brewing technique matters. Anything that takes longer than 30 seconds will have high acid. Make espresso 1 cup at a time. Aeropress also works very well, even with the long exposure time.
    5 I use the inclined bed method. Much better than wedge pillows.
    I hope this helps.

  12. I’m a coffee addict. If I don’t stop drinking coffee, I fear I may cause some serious damage. I’ve tried different beans including decaf but to no avail. My stomach responds the same.

    I must not drink coffee
    I must not drink coffee
    I must not drink coffee
    I must not drink coffee….

  13. All I can say is, check out Melatonin and how it protects the esophagus from stomach acid. Research, is the answer.

    Find what works for you.

    It’s in our mouths, throats etc.

  14. A way to reduce uric acid is to dissolve a small teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in a tumbler of water, and drink it 3 times a day. Also drink lots of water before sleeping. This will definitely help if you have gout, and in just a few days your uric acid level will go down. However, I don’t know how this relates to acid reflux, but funnily enough I got stomach reflex quite bad, when I stopped drinking beer. 🙂

  15. I just learned that adding a small pinch of baking soda to a cup of coffee will neutralize the acidity. I saw a woman do it on youtube and she showed the proof by testing it with acid strips before and after she added the baking soda. She only added a very small amount – just a pinch, about the equivalent to a pinch of salt in a typical food recipe. I had to stop drinking coffee a few years ago because it triggers my acid reflux, but I’m going to try this and double up on the safety measures by using one of the coffees that are already low acid. If anyone else has tried this or does try it, let us know your results.

    1. Yes, there are a number of articles online that say similar things, but we have not tested it here at headquarters. Good luck with it, and you might want to try our Low Acid Flight, a sampler of three different low acid coffees.

    1. Hi Laura – thanks for writing in. Decaf, when processed with the Mountain water method (which is how we do it), is lower in acid due to the water process caffeine extraction. So you might find that it doesn’t activate or aggravate your acid reflux like regular caffeinated coffee does. Try a little in moderation and see how it works for you. Ultimately, whether or not it’s “ok” to drink decaf if you have acid reflux is up to you and a medical advisor. Hope that helps!

  16. Pingback: What Everybody Ought to Know About Coffee’s Effect on the Body » We Dream of Coffee

  17. I noticed that I started to get acid reflux and heartburn a lot more when I gained some weight. In the last 3 years I have gained about 30 pounds. At one point I was down about 15 pounds and the heartburn seemed to go away with it. Losing weight can be a big factor in eliminating heartburn. Worth a shot! (Not to mention losing weight is always a good thing…)

    1. Thanks for your comments, “tums”! Great to hear you are taking good care of yourself and seeing the benefits of doing so. Hope you can enjoy a nice cup of coffee every now and then with no adverse effects.

  18. Hi,
    I just stumbled across this website and appreciate the information provided, as well as reading the comments. I have suffered with heartburn for years, and have found that, like you said, it truly is a unique experience for each person. I initially thought coffee was my culprit, but as I made changes in other areas of my life such as eating less sugar and carbs (but not cutting them out entirely), eating smaller meals at one time, and simply not drinking “as much” coffee every morning the heartburn stayed at bay. I encourage everyone to really pay attention to their own bodies and experiment with different lifestyle and dietary changes (give it at least two weeks for each change you implement to see if that contributes to or improves the heartburn issue). Also, don’t assume a home remedy that worked miracles for one person will work for you. I tried the apple cider vinegar and it gave me a horrible heartburn attack. But other things do work for me that don’t work for others. ……Oh, and one more thing, I have found that stress management is a huge factor for me. Doing some meditation, slowing down, being present to the moment and dealing with anxiety goes a long way to overall health and well-being…..including stomach issues.
    Thank you for the articles and links on this website too!!

  19. Hi again….I wanted to add one more thing that I found works for me. The darker roasts really do seem to be better for my heartburn. Finding a dark roast that you enjoy can be tricky if you are not normally a “dark roast” lover, so I encourage you to try several different kinds. It looks like there are some great options here on this website; I haven’t tried them yet, but will definitely do so! Us “coffee lovers” know that it isn’t just the “taste” of coffee, but the whole “experience” of a good cup of coffee in the morning that helps us gear up for our day!!! So, finding a way to keep that coffee in the equation is important to me!!

    1. Hi Vicki! Thank you so much for your contribution. Paying attention to your own body and what works for you is a great approach, along with regular exercise and consulting a health professional. Having a meditation practice works for us too!

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