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Coffee vs. Tea for GERD

Overview

Highlights

  1. Both coffee and tea relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which prevents the backward flow of stomach contents that causes reflux.
  2. There is conflicting evidence regarding whether caffeine is a trigger for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  3. A gastroenterologist can help you identify your individual triggers for GERD.

Perhaps you’re used to kick-starting your morning with a cup of coffee or winding down in the evening with a steaming mug of tea. If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you may need to be more cautious about what you drink. There is concern that coffee and tea can cause heartburn and aggravate acid reflux. Learn more about the effects of these favorite beverages and whether you can consume them in moderation with GERD.

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Food and GERD

Effects of food on GERD

What Should You Drink Instead?
  • water
  • non-mint tea, like chamomile or licorice tea
  • goat’s milk or skim milk
  • non-citrus or tomato juices, like apple or carrot juice

According to the Cleveland Clinic, 1 out of every 10 adults experiences heartburn one or more times per week. Such frequency can indicate GERD. You may also be diagnosed with silent GERD, known as esophageal disease, without symptoms. Whether you have symptoms or not, your doctor will probably suggest lifestyle treatments in addition to medication to improve the health of your esophagus. Lifestyle treatments include avoiding certain foods.

Heartburn is often triggered by foods. This is because certain substances irritate the esophagus or weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which prevents the backward flow of stomach contents that causes acid reflux. Triggers can include:

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

You may consider limiting your consumption of both coffee and tea if you suffer from GERD. Both relax the LES.

Read more: 7 foods to help your acid reflux »

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Caffeine and GERD

The effects of caffeine on GERD

Caffeine — a major component of many varieties of both coffee and tea — has been identified as a common trigger for heartburn. Caffeine may trigger GERD symptoms because it relaxes the LES. Still, the problem isn’t so clear-cut because of conflicting evidence and significant differences within both types of beverages. In fact, according to Gastroenterology & Hepatology, no studies have been able to conclude that caffeine is a definitive trigger for GERD symptoms.

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Coffee

Coffee concerns

Conventional coffee garners the most attention when it comes to limiting caffeine. Regular, caffeinated coffee contains far more caffeine than tea and soda. The Mayo Clinic has outlined the following caffeine estimates for popular coffee types per 8-ounce servings:

Type of Coffee How Much Caffeine?
Black coffee 95 to 200 mg
Instant black coffee 27 to 173 mg
Latte 63 to 175 mg
Decaf coffee 2 to 12 mg
 

The caffeine content can also vary by roast type. The darker the roast, the less caffeine there is. Light roasts, often labeled as “breakfast coffee,” contain the most caffeine. You might want to opt for darker roasts if you find that caffeine aggravates your symptoms.

Still, the symptoms of GERD from coffee may be attributable to other components of coffee. Some people find that darker roasts are more acidic and aggravate their symptoms more. Cold brew coffee has a lower amount of caffeine and is less acidic, which may make it an acceptable choice for those with GERD or heartburn.

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Tea

Tea and GERD

The relationship between tea and GERD is similarly debated. While some medical centers, including the Cleveland Clinic, recommend avoiding tea to avoid heartburn, not all tea drinkers experience acid reflux.

The Mayo Clinic has outlined the following caffeine approximations for popular teas per 8-ounce servings:

Type of Tea How Much Caffeine?
Black tea 14 to 70 mg
Decaffeinated black tea 0 to 12 mg
Bottled store-bought tea 5 to 40 mg
Green tea 24 to 45 mg
 

The more processed the tea product is, the more caffeine it has. Such is the case with black tea leaves. These contain more caffeine than green. At the same time, black tea is more acidic because of the longer processing time. It’s important to determine whether you experience acid reflux from caffeine, acidity, or both.

There are a few caveats. While the majority of studies have focused on black (caffeinated) tea, some types of herbal (non-caffeinated) teas are in fact associated with GERD symptoms. Your first instinct might be to choose herbal teas in lieu of caffeinated tea leaves. The problem is that certain herbs, such as peppermint and spearmint, can actually lead to heartburn, too. Read product labels carefully and avoid these minty herbs when possible.

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Bottom line

The bottom line

With the jury still out about caffeine’s effects on reflux, it can be difficult for those with GERD to know whether to avoid coffee or tea. The lack of consensus in the scientific and medical communities about the effects of coffee versus tea on GERD symptoms suggests that knowing your personal tolerance for these beverages is your best bet. Talk to a gastroenterologist if you’re uncertain about whether or not to avoid coffee, tea, or both. This specialist can help you identify your individual triggers for GERD.

Also, while lifestyle changes can help, they may not be enough to combat all of your symptoms. You may also need over-the-counter or prescription medications to maintain control of your heartburn. Lifestyle changes and medications can help lead to a better quality of life while also minimizing damage to the esophagus.

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