If you suffer from persistent heartburn or acid reflux, your reflux specialist has likely stressed the importance of monitoring your dietary and lifestyle habits to successfully manage the symptoms of your GERD. Ft. Worth and Dallas are home to some of the nation’s most famous Southern-style restaurants, offering residents and visitors alike a true taste of Texas with recipes from spicy chili to fried chicken. Unfortunately for many sufferers of GERD, eating such spicy or rich foods isn’t always the best idea for dealing with unruly acid reflux.
However, a new study published by Mayo Clinic reveals it’s not always the foods you eat that exacerbate symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux—in fact, sufferers may want to pay more attention to what they’re drinking. Even for non-sufferers of GERD, occasional bouts of heartburn or reflux can still occur. When this happens, most are quick to point the blame at heavy or fatty meals they’re eating rather than the beverages they’re drinking.
Why Certain Drinks Affect Heartburn and GERD
Alcohol, coffee and other caffeinated beverages all have a temporary yet direct effect on heartburn. Such drinks have the ability to affect heartburn or acid reflux via a ring of muscle that’s located at the junction between the stomach and esophagus known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Specifically, consuming alcohol causes the esophageal sphincter to relax, creating an opening that should otherwise be closed except when food is passing through the esophagus. As a result, stomach acids can easily reflux back into the esophagus, causing the burning sensation that many experience in their chest and throat.
The same goes for beverages containing caffeine like coffee or tea. The caffeine in such drinks also has the ability to relax the LES, making it easier for stomach acids to flow back into the esophageal tract. However, it’s important to note that not everyone who drinks alcoholic or caffeinated beverages will experience symptoms of reflux or heartburn. Some people may be predisposed to such conditions and have a weak or faulty LES in the first place. Also, being severely overweight or obese can significantly increase one chances of experiencing such symptoms.
This is not to say that cutting back on alcohol or caffeine will alleviate symptoms of GERD, but it may help for those who experience occasional bouts of heartburn. Occasional sufferers of heartburn may also benefit from making small changes to their diets, but not necessarily changes that include eliminating spicy or citrus-based foods assumed to exacerbate heartburn. According to one of the researchers from the Mayo Clinic study, people are afraid of orange juice or tomato sauce (foods believed to trigger heartburn) but, in fact, there’s no clear link between such foods and acid reflux.
To successfully avoid occasional bouts of heartburn or acid reflux, it’s best to practice a little common sense and take a mindful approach to eating. If you know a particular food is sure to disagree with you, avoid it—but you should modify the way you eat along with what you eat. It’s simple: avoid consuming large meals in a short amount of time. Instead, slow down and eat smaller meals. Take your time savoring each bite of your food, paying close attention to its smell, texture and taste as you chew slowly. Do this for each small meal you consume and it may help with symptoms of reflux.