Coffee is a beloved drink across the globe. From increased energy to better mental focus, there is a lot to gain from this drink. However, you may be wondering if coffee is the cause of your heartburn.
Can coffee really cause heartburn? Coffee does not directly cause heartburn, but it can make symptoms worse. For example, caffeine affects stress, and stress can contribute to heartburn and make it worse.
If you have ever experienced heartburn in your life, you know that it can be quite uncomfortable. It is a burning feeling in the chest, which you feel behind the breastbone.
Do you have heartburn?
If you have had heartburn at some point in your life, you are familiar with the sensation. It feels like the upper chest area has a warm or burning sensation. Other than this, some people also feel pain at varying levels.
A sour taste in the back of the mouth is probable, as is the regurgitation of food and stomach acid. Coughing can also take place. The symptoms vary, but the burning sensation is present in almost all people with heartburn.
While the name might be confusing, heartburn has little or nothing to do with the heart. In some cases, it can point to some heart problems. But most times, it relates to the upper gastrointestinal system experiencing some complications.
You should note that people often confuse between heartburn and acid reflux. They are related, but not in the way you might think. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, which is a common and frustrating condition.
In some cases, the burning sensation can also point to GERD. It is thus best not to ignore any changes to your gastrointestinal system, as these could point to severe issues.
What causes heartburn?
As mentioned earlier, heartburn is a symptom of a gastrointestinal condition. In some cases, it can point to GERD. In this case, we will focus on acid reflux, which is common when one consumes caffeine under some circumstances.
Acid reflux also goes by the name Gastroesophageal Reflux and has the abbreviation GER. This condition is a process through which food and stomach acid come out of the stomach and back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach and also goes by the name gullet.
Usually, stomach contents can’t make their way out and up this tube. It owes to the presence of ring-like muscles arrange in a series towards the lower end of the tube. These are known as the lower esophagus sphincter.
This group of muscles contracts and tightens around the lower end of the tube. As such, stomach contents cannot go up as digestion takes place.
However, there are cases where the contents can go up, owing to the relaxation of the muscles. The contents can also move up the pipe when there is a lot of pressure in the stomach. In these cases, the tube will not be well-sealed, and food and acids can move up the gullet and reach the mouth and throat.
As the contents move up the tube, you experience a burn. After all, this is an acid moving up your body, and you are bound to feel it.
There is another cause of heartburn, which owes to having an abnormal gastroesophageal flap valve. This valve works in ensuring that contents move one way from the gullet into the stomach.
When the valve does not work as it should, it can allow contents to move up the gullet. And from this, one would experience heartburn.
You should note that this is a medical condition that requires urgent treatment. Else, you will suffer heartburn quite a lot. Making lifestyle changes cannot help much with this.
Thus, if the guidelines set out later don’t do much to help with the burning sensation, you should look into getting medical help.
Are you at risk for heartburn?
Are you likely to have heartburn? Well, aside from taking coffee, some factors predispose you to acid reflux.
One reason why people should avoid caffeine is that it elevates stress levels in the body. It blocks adenosine and thus paves the way for stimulating hormones to take over.
You, therefore, end up feeling more stressed than you usually would be over some situations. And in the end, this affects your digestion.
Some people experience pain with their heartburn. Well, this owes to the increased pain sensitivity due to the high stress levels.
You might think that being stressed makes the stomach acids more acidic, but this is not the case. It owes to your increased pain sensitivity such that a small burn goes a long way.
Now, it gets worse. Not only can stress make heartburn worse, but heartburn can also trigger stress. Remember that caffeine is not helping matters as it keeps stimulating you in a flight or fight mode.
Thus, you end up in a cycle of stress and heartburn, and the only way to stop is to manage stress levels. And this might mean quitting coffee.
Other than stress levels, some other factors also contribute to the risk of developing heartburn. These include:
- high-fat diets
- alcohol consumption
- lying down after eating and smoking
- Some foods can also cause heartburn, as is the case with coffee
How coffee can cause heartburn
Most studies show a relationship between caffeine consumption and heartburn. Others show no relation. And you might thus find it confusing as you try to get a definite answer.
One study showed that coffee promotes acid reflux and is thus to blame for several heartburn cases. The study also went into the effects of the drink on the colonic motor activity a few minutes after consumption.
Another study conducted in 2013 was of the contrary opinion. It went into the effects of coffee on the upper gastrointestinal system’s major disorders, among them heartburn.
The study involved more than 8,000 patients who consumed coffee at the time. The results of this study showed that the relationship between caffeine consumption and heartburn was not significant.
Even with these contradictions, there is always a chance that the coffee could be to blame. It owes to the following reasons:
You already know that the stomach is an acidic environment full of potent digestive juices. Coffee is a highly acidic drink. Thus, when you consume it, you add to the proton secretion of gastric acid.
It owes to the stimulation of stomach cells responsible for secreting stomach acid. You thus end up with more acidity than usual, and this can increase the chances of heartburn.
You can prevent this by consuming a drink with less caffeine. Or you can consume fewer cups than you usually do. Maybe work with two cups instead of the four that have become your norm.
Delayed Stomach Emptying
When you consume coffee, it takes longer for the stomach to digest the contents. That means that food remains in the stomach for longer. And this causes heartburn. As such, this could cause you some discomfort.
These are but some of the reasons why coffee can cause heartburn. Other reasons are not as direct. An example would be heightened stress levels, which increase heartburn.
Preventing heartburn from coffee
At this point, you can see that heartburn may or may not be related to coffee. It can owe to a myriad of factors. And the best way to deal with a problem is to address its cause. Thus, a lifestyle change is underway if you wish to be free of the pain.
If you smoke, you need to cut back on smoking or quit the habit. That can be a hard task, but many avenues help with this. From nicotine patches to joining support groups, there are many ways to get through the rough patch.
Experts also advise that you lose weight if you are overweight or obese. The unhealthy weight gain could be to blame. And if not, losing the extra pounds will keep some diseases at bay. Thus, you would not lose anything – only the weight.
Alcohol consumption should also reduce, where applicable. It could be contributing to the discomfort.
Stress is another factor you need to address. It may be making the heartburn worse, thus fuelling the problem. It is, therefore, essential to understand what is causing you stress.
Note that coffee consumption also increases stress, and you thus need to quit or cut back on this.
Time your eating at appropriate times. You should have heavy meals in the morning and reduce your portions as the day progresses. Having a heavy dinner is a sure way to trigger acid reflux.
When you lie down, do not lie on a flat surface and instead rest your head on a pillow. Doing this ensures that the gullet is not in a flat position.
While these factors are not related to coffee, they can make the acid reflux worse. Thus, if you combine coffee consumption with any of these triggers, the discomfort will only increase.
What if heartburn symptoms persist?
Suppose you use the guidelines stated above and make the necessary lifestyle changes, but the heartburn continues. What should you do? You can try using antacids as they offer quick relief to the problem.
However, note that taking these meds does not address the cause. If anything, they mask the symptoms and can be dangerous when taken in the long term.
You might end up developing a much more severe condition because you ignored the symptoms. Also, these meds are not preventative. Thus, if stress is triggering the heartburn, you will have another episode.
The best thing to do is to work on making some lifestyle changes. And if the symptoms persist, you should consult a medical professional.
Does the type of coffee matter?
You will find people telling you to change how you roast or brew the coffee if you look at online sources. According to them, making such a variation will help the symptoms.
Is this true? No, you will still experience heartburn in the same intensity. The only solution lies in addressing the causes or lowering the caffeine content.
Dealing with heartburn can be frustrating, more so if the problem persists over a long time. If the symptoms present after taking coffee, you should work on keeping a diary. You can then note if there is a pattern in the symptoms.
It also helps to address other likely causes such as stress and alcohol consumption. Work on following the simple guidelines outlined in this article and see how that works out for you. If there are no changes, and if the symptoms persist, seek medical advice.