Coffee vs. Tea for GERD

Medically reviewed by Judith Marcin, MD on December 7, 2017Written by Robin Madell and Kristeen Cherney on May 13, 2015

Overview

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 find your symptoms aggravated by 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.

Effects of food on GERD

According to studies, it’s been shown that at least 4 out of 10 people in the United States experience 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 may suggest lifestyle treatments in addition to medication to improve the health of your esophagus. Lifestyle treatments can include avoiding certain foods that can aggravate their symptoms.

For some people, heartburn symptoms may be triggered by certain foods. Certain substances can irritate the esophagus or weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). A weakened lower esophageal sphincter can lead to the backward flow of stomach contents — and 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 might try limiting your consumption of both coffee and tea if you suffer from GERD and see if your symptoms improve. Both can relax the LES. But not every food and beverage affects individuals in the same way.

Keeping a food diary can help you isolate which foods aggravate reflux symptoms and which ones don’t.

The effects of caffeine on GERD

Caffeine — a major component of many varieties of both coffee and tea — has been identified as a possible trigger for heartburn in some people. Caffeine may trigger GERD symptoms because it can relax 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, there are no large, well-designed studies that show that the elimination of coffee or caffeine consistently improves GERD symptoms or outcomes.

In fact, the current guidelines from the American College of Gastroenterology (specialists in the digestive tract) no longer recommend routine dietary changes for the treatment of reflux and GERD.

Coffee concerns

Conventional coffee garners the most attention when it comes to limiting caffeine, which may be beneficial for other health reasons. 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 coffeeHow much caffeine?
black coffee95 to 165 mg
instant black coffee63 mg
latte63 to 126 mg
decaffeinated coffee2 to 5 mg

The caffeine content can also vary by roast type. With a darker roast, there is less caffeine per bean. Light roasts, often labeled as “breakfast coffee,” often contain the most caffeine.

You might want to opt for darker roasts if you find that caffeine aggravates your symptoms. However, the symptoms of GERD from coffee may be attributable to components of coffee other than caffeine. For example, some people find that darker roasts are more acidic and may aggravate their symptoms more.

Cold brew coffee has a lower amount of caffeine and may be less acidic, which might make it a more acceptable choice for those with GERD or heartburn.

Tea and GERD

The relationship between tea and GERD is similarly debated. Tea not only contains caffeine but also a variety of other components.

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

Type of teaHow much caffeine?
black tea25 to 48 mg
decaffeinated black tea2 to 5 mg
bottled store-bought tea5 to 40 mg
green tea25 to 29 mg

The more processed the tea product is, the more caffeine it tends to have. Such is the case with black tea leaves, which contain more caffeine than green tea leaves.

How a cup of tea is prepared also affects the final product. The longer the tea is steeped, the more caffeine there will be in the cup.

It can be difficult to determine whether your acid reflux is from caffeine or something else within a particular type of tea product.

There are a few caveats.

While the majority of studies have focused on black (caffeinated) tea, some types of herbal (noncaffeinated) 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, may actually aggravate heartburn symptoms in certain people.

Read product labels carefully and avoid these minty herbs if they tend to worsen your symptoms.

The bottom line

With the jury still out about caffeine’s overall effects on reflux symptoms, 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 regarding your GERD symptoms.

The lifestyle changes that most experts agree can help reduce acid reflux and GERD symptoms include:

  • weight loss, if overweight
  • elevating the head of your bed six inches
  • not eating within three hours of going to bed

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, along with medications, can help lead to a better quality of life while also minimizing damage to the esophagus.

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