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. But you may need to be more cautious about certain foods when you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). 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 your condition.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, 1 out of every 10 adults experiences heartburn one or more times per week. Such frequency can indicate GERD. Or you may be diagnosed with silent GERD, known as esophageal disease without symptoms. Whether you have symptoms or not, aside from medications, your doctor will probably suggest lifestyle treatments to improve the health of your esophagus. This includes 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 reflux. Triggers can include:
- caffeinated products, such as coffee, soda, and tea
- citrus fruits
- fatty foods
- 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.
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 and Hepatology, no studies have been able to conclude that caffeine is a definitive trigger for GERD symptoms.
Furthermore, according to the University of Illinois, such beverages with and without caffeine can equally trigger reflux. This means that caffeine sensitivity can vary on an individual basis, with other factors in coffee and tea possibly contributing to heartburn.
Conventional coffee garners the most attention when it comes to limiting caffeine. Regular, caffeinated coffee contains far more caffeine compared to 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, because roasting causes caffeine to diminish. 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.
The University of Illinois reports that some GERD patients may actually tolerate coffee. The key is knowing whether coffee contributes to your individual symptoms.
The relationship between tea and GERD is similarly debated. While some medical centers, including 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|
Black tea and green tea both come from the leaves of the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Multiple factors affect the caffeine present in tea, including growing region, plant age, production, leaf processing, and steeping temperature. Black tea is more acidic than green tea 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 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.
With the jury still out about caffeine’s effects on reflux, it can be difficult to know whether those with GERD should 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.