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Want to get rid of heartburn? You might have to re-examine your coffee habit. Will decaffeinated coffee or low acid coffee help?

We sure love our coffee — nearly two-thirds of all US residents drink at least a cup of coffee a day, most enjoy almost three cups, and though a quarter of coffee drinkers admit that they are "addicted" to coffee, only 10 percent want to cut down on their habit [1]. 

If you love coffee but also suffer from frequent acid reflux, we have some bad news for you, however: coffee is one of the potential causes of heartburn, and if you're trying to follow an acid reflux diet to minimize your episodes of heartburn, you might have to say goodbye to your black liquid goodness.

Is that thought quite nearly literally unbearable to you? Decaf might not be the real thing, but at least it's something. Will drinking low acid or decaffeinated coffee help you get rid of heartburn? Let's take a look!

Coffee Causes Heartburn? For Real?

I'm afraid so. 

Coffee:

  • Stimulates gastrin, a hormone responsible for managing stomach acid production. 
  • May weaken the esophageal sphincter. 
  • Might slow down gastric emptying.

These are all things that contribute to episodes of heartburn. [2

Is it really coffee, as such, that leads to heartburn, though? The jury is still out on that one. Some studies suggest that caffeine is to blame for acid reflux [3], while others note that people suffering from gastroesopageal reflux disease (GERD) don't get acute heartburn after consuming tea or caffeinated water, but do after drinking regular coffee [4]. This could mean that the link is not between heartburn and coffee, but between heartburn and caffeine.

Confused yet? You're not the only one. The fact that different scientific studies have yielded widely varying conclusions simply means that we're not sure whether coffee causes heartburn, or caffeine does, or even whether either universally lead to aggravated acid reflux in all people who are otherwise prone to suffering from heartburn. We do know that there is a link between coffee and heartburn, however, because many people report experiencing increased acid reflux after drinking coffee.

We also know that coffee is usually acidic, and people who are trying to escape frequent episodes of heartburn are best off eating a less acidic diet [5]. You are advised to stay away from citrus fruits, tomatoes, and vinegar for the same reason — a low acid diet keeps acid reflux at bay.

While all kinds of coffee are somewhat acidic, the exact pH level of a coffee depends on the kind of bean, roast, and brewing method used. Decaffeinated coffees are less acidic than regular, caffeine-containing, coffees [6]. 

Does this mean that people looking for heartburn remedies should stay away from regular coffee and switch to decaf, or at least low acid coffee brands?

Is Decaf Coffee Better Than Regular On An Acid Reflux Diet?

One study showed that people with GERD, the chronic form of acid reflux, suffer fewer episodes of heartburn, and less severe episodes of heartburn, if they choose to drink decaffeinated coffee or tea instead of regular coffee or tea [7]. Another study indicated that decaf coffee still leads to acid production, potentially triggering heartburn, however [8]. 

This means that decaffeinated coffee might not be the answer to your prayers to send heartburn packing, after all, and the good news for coffee lovers is that that's not because you're meant to avoid coffee altogether. Low acid cofee — caffeine included — may be the heartburn remedy you are looking for.

Low acid brands of coffee that could be compatible with an acid reflux diet and get rid of heartburn include Puroast Coffee, Don Pablo Cafe, Volcanica Coffee, and Java Planet. 

If you'd like to try low acid coffee for yourself, we'd suggest you keep a simple food journal to note what you eat and drink and when you get heartburn. After a while, you will figure out whether or not a certain coffee causes episodes of acid reflux. If it doesn't, you can keep it. 

Meanwhile, also keep in mind that coffee, decaf or not, is less likely to give you heartburn if you consume it with a meal than if you drink it on its own [9]. Chewing gum after you're finished with your meal or drink has likewise been shown to be one of the most effective natural heartburn remedies, so we'd encourage you to try this out as well [10]. 

The Bottom Line

There is no question that food is a natural heartburn remedy. Some foods, like spicy foods, tomatoes, and peppermint are likely to trigger heartburn, while others, like fiber-rich foods and omega 3 fatty acids, help prevent heartburn. Despite contradictory study results, it appears that there is indeed a link between coffee and heartburn — and switching to decaf or low acid coffee may help you. If heartburn often bothers you, trying either decaffeinated coffee or low acid coffee makes sense. If it works for you, you can stick with it.

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