Alcoholic Beverages

No one knows exactly why people get gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). However, certain dietary factors may be associated with reflux symptoms like persistent heartburn and acid regurgitation. The American Academy of Family Physicians identifies the consumption of alcoholic beverages as one of those factors, though various studies show contradictory results.

Conflicting Research

A study published in BMC Gastroenterology found that the severity of GERD symptoms in study participants increased when they increased their alcohol intake. While other researchers have similarly concluded that there is a relationship between drinking alcohol—especially in large quantities—and GERD, others have reported conflicting findings.  

In an interview in Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Laura B. Gerson, M.D., stated that although preliminary studies suggested that alcohol may worsen GERD symptoms, no studies have successfully proven that stopping alcohol use for more than six months improved reflux.

Another study published in the journal Gut reported that alcohol doesn’t seem to be a risk factor for GERD. Similarly, a study by Stanford researchers published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found no evidence that stopping alcohol consumption improved GERD symptoms. A review of the topic in the Journal of Zhejiang University Science found that although drinking alcohol may be a risk factor for GERD, the relationship has yet to be fully proven.

Despite this controversy, research does suggest that beer, wine, and liquor may have differing effects on your risk for developing GERD. Here’s what the evidence suggests might be best for GERD patients, and which to avoid.

Liquor, Wine, and Beer: Research Findings

Research has shown that even moderate quantities of high-proof liquor can impair the ability of the esophagus to clear acid when you’re lying down. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association observed the effects of 40 percent alcohol scotch whiskey. Healthy volunteers went to bed at their usual bedtime after drinking the alcohol three hours after dinner. The study showed that lying down after drinking liquor increased GERD symptoms—even with only four ounces of alcohol.

Another study, published in Gastroenterology, compared the effects of different types of alcohol on reflux esophagitis in 21-year-old participants. The study showed no significant associations between wine consumption and reflux symptoms. It also found that subjects who drank the highest quantities of beer per week actually experienced a decrease in reflux symptoms.

Yet, a separate study published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics compared the effects of beer, wine, and water on reflux symptoms. They found that drinking both beer and wine equally increased reflux when compared to drinking water.

Another study published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences examined the effect of beer and wine on reflux. Researchers discovered that the esophagus stayed acidic longer after drinking white wine than it did after drinking beer. The same researchers conducted a separate study to compare red and white wine with tap water. They found that both types of wine resulted in increased acidity of the lower esophagus. The study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, concluded that drinking white wine caused more reflux symptoms than red wine, and that both caused greater reflux than drinking tap water.

What’s Best?

A review of research published in the Journal of Zhejiang University Science concluded that although many studies have attempted to illuminate the distinctions between the various types of alcohol and their effects on GERD, the results remain diverse and contradictory.

Keeping track of your own response to various foods and drinks is the only way to discover which foods and drinks you can best tolerate and which are your “triggers.”

While some researchers speculate that alcohol consumption “probably” precipitates GERD, your personal tolerance for alcohol may differ from others. If alcohol aggravates your GERD, your doctor may recommend that you limit or avoid consumption.