Coffee vs. Tea for GERD

Written by Robin Madell and Kristeen Cherney | Published on May 13, 2015
Medically Reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on May 13, 2015

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.

Effects of Food on GERD

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.

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
  • 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:

    • 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.  

    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 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.

    Coffee Concerns

    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 CoffeeHow Much Caffeine?
    Black coffee95 to 200 mg
    Instant black coffee27 to 173 mg
    Latte63 to 175 mg
    Decaf coffee2 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.

    The University of Illinois reports that some GERD patients may actually tolerate coffee. The key is knowing whether coffee contributes to your individual symptoms.

    Tea and GERD

    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 TeaHow Much Caffeine?
    Black tea14 to 70 mg
    Decaffeinated black tea0 to 12 mg
    Bottled store-bought tea5 to 40 mg
    Green tea24 to 45 mg

    As with coffee, the more processed the 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 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.

    Bottom Line

    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. 

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