The Coffee/Heartburn Connection — My “Near Death” Experience

The Coffee/Heartburn Connection — My “Near Death” Experience



Jul 23, 20134 min read

As somebody who was wonderfully blessed to have never suffered heartburn a day in my life, I was suddenly at a loss for what was happening as I clutched my upper chest and throat thinking I was dying. I had a regular morning routine: a small breakfast of a fresh, organic hardboiled egg, a slice of cantaloupe, a small glass of fresh orange juice, and two cups of black coffee. By mid afternoon, I would be reaching for the coffeepot again, looking for a pick me up after lunch (usually a less healthy option of fast food or even skipping lunch altogether), and one day, just after I finished my second afternoon cup of coffee, I gasped for air feeling like I was having a heart attack.Thankfully, but embarrassingly, it was not a heart attack I was suffering. Instead, it was heartburn I couldn?t believe it! Heartburn! More specifically, acid reflux or GERD. For somebody who had never had heartburn in 30 years, I was completely shocked that I was having it at all.

After my near brush with death (or so I believed), I decided I didn?t want to suffer from the feeling or the long-term effects of heartburn or acid reflux ever again and started to do more research on the subject to identify and avoid some of the culprits. Among the greatest culprit in my diet: coffee.

Why Does Coffee Cause Heartburn?There are a few reasons, actually, why coffee contributes to heartburn and why frequent consumption of coffee can lead to more severe long term problems. First of all, coffee actually relaxes the muscles at the top of your stomach, known as the esophageal sphincter. The muscles usually function to tightly close off to prevent stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus. When the esophageal sphincter relaxes from caffeine consumption associated with coffee drinking, the valve does not remain closed, and stomach acid will begin to back up into the esophagus and causes the pain associated with heartburn and acid reflux.

Another reason why coffee causes heartburn has to do with the chemical makeup of coffee itself. The tannins in coffee are known to cause GERD. While tannins are known as powerful antioxidants, they can be extraordinarily acidic and can lead to the onset of worsening of heartburn or GERD. The astringent chemical is found in high quantities in some wines, teas, and particularly in coffee, and is what gives it the somewhat sharp, bitter taste and drying feeling In your mouth.Coffee is known to trigger more stomach acid production. Aside from having two known contributing factors to heartburn, the added stomach acid secretions can contribute even more largely to coffee causing severe heartburn. When the stomach begins pumping out extra acid, it can begin backing up into the esophagus, particularly after a meal. Extra pressure and an over-filled stomach will demand a place for the extra stomach acid?often the path of least resistance is up and into the esophagus where it causes the symptoms of heartburn and GERD.

Will Switching To Decaffeinated Coffee Cause Less Heartburn?It is hard to say. In some cases, it might help reduce the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. Decaf coffee still has some amounts of caffeine, and it also still contains the tannic acid which is responsible in some cases for the symptoms associated with heartburn and acid reflux. So while switching to decaf coffee can?t hurt, it also might not help, either. Your best bet will likely be to avoid coffee altogether to prevent heartburn from becoming debilitating.

Not everybody suffers from heartburn as dramatic as mine was. Surprisingly, though, many people do mistake heartburn for a heart attack and vice versa. While I certainly know now what the cause of my heartburn was, I am able to avoid it. While I still enjoy my occasional cup of coffee, I realize that frequently drinking the aromatic beverage may lead to the problems I battled from acid reflux and heartburn. I also learned that frequent heartburn or GERD can actually lead to some permanent damage including esophageal scarring. Even more frightening, my grandfather died of esophageal cancer, which turned out to be the result of frequent acid reflux.

There are a number of factors which can contribute to heartburn, but one of the biggest culprits for many people is coffee. Coffee is a triple threat to invoking the symptoms of heartburn?between the chemical causing the esophageal sphincter to relax and allow stomach acid to back up into the esophagus, the tannic acid, and the increased stomach acid production that occurs from consuming coffee, the likelihood of suffering from heartburn as a result is fairly high.

I always drink an organic coffee substitute now, to make sure I never experience this again. It doesn?t matter what brand, as long it even tastes half as good as real coffee, I just choose to not make my body age any faster than it already does.


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