Patients who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are often encouraged by their physicians to limit caffeine intake. This can be especially difficult for habitual coffee drinkers. Recent data has opposed the popular notion that coffee can cause heartburn symptoms. Some researchers have suggested that the method used to process coffee beans may have an impact on acid reflux.
Heartburn is the general term used to describe the painful burning sensation that can occur in the esophagus and upper abdomen from regurgitated stomach contents after eating. Gastroesophageal reflux disease involves the persistent backflow of acid, bile, and stomach contents through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) back into the esophagus.
Acidic stomach contents can irritate the inner linings of the esophagus causing discomfort and pain. Other symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, and a metallic taste in the back of the throat.
GERD Risk Factors
Although structural abnormalities in the lower esophageal sphincter likely play a role in heartburn, many other factors can contribute to the development of GERD. Large meals and certain foods have been known to increase stomach acid production. Both caffeine and smoking have also been linked to an increase in the frequency of heartburn. In addition, obesity and pregnancy places greater pressure on the LES make it susceptible to opening at inappropriate times
Coffee and Acid Reflux
Although earlier studies have yielded evidence that suggests coffee and caffeine does increase the incidence of acid reflux, a recent literature review conducted by Stanford University found that when multiple studies were examined together, the results were inconclusive. Earlier studies had yielded conflicting results and that there was insufficient evidence to support the recommendation that patients with GERD should avoid coffee.
New Coffee Blends that are Easier on the Stomach
Coffee manufacturers have started to market coffee blends that are easier on the stomach. Unfortunately, coffee makers have not disclosed exactly what makes these blends less irritating to the stomach. Early scientific research has speculated that the method used to roast and process coffee beans may have an affect on compounds that cause stomach irritation.
Patients who suffer from GERD are often told to avoid or limit the intake of coffee and caffeine. Since the available data is inconclusive, more studies are needed to determine the impact of coffee on heartburn symptoms. Common sense dictates that patients with GERD should avoid any foods or beverages that they feel exacerbate their condition. Patients should also contact a physician with concerns regarding acid reflux and to discuss treatment options.