If you’ve ever experienced heartburn and were left stumped as to what the cause was, perhaps you should turn your gaze toward the bottom of your cup – your coffee cup, that is.
Experts from the University of California, Los Angeles, are suggesting that alcohol and caffeinated beverages can have a direct effect on heartburn. This is because a ring of muscle located between the stomach and esophagus called the “lower esophageal sphincter” can be temporarily affected by alcohol and caffeine in some people.
As reported by NPR, UCLA gastroenterologist Kevin Ghassemi, explained that this muscle is meant to be closed at all times except for when food is passing into the esophagus. But because alcohol relaxes it, it creates an opening. And when this happens, he says, stomach acid can come back up into the esophagus, which is reflux – which is what causes the burning sensation we experience with heartburn.
Furthermore, Ghassemi makes the link to caffeine as well saying, “The caffeine that’s in coffee or other caffeinated beverages also will relax the sphincter muscle.”
If you’re one of the lucky few who doesn’t experience heartburn after consuming caffeine or alcohol, consider yourself normal. Ghassemi points out that some people are naturally predisposed due to a “weak or faulty sphincter muscle.” This, he says, can often be influenced by being overweight or obese because it increases the risk.
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About a year ago, I attended a cooking demonstration for a book called Dropping Acid: The Reflux Cookbook & Cure. A colleague invited me to the event after learning that I avoided coffee because it gives me heartburn.
I hoped the demonstration would give me some new ideas about what I could eat that wouldn’t give me heartburn. I had first been diagnosed with heartburn during college, after experiencing chest pain so severe it woke me up in the middle of the night. I vaguely knew that I shouldn’t eat citrus, drink excessively or eat spicy foods, but typically found it easier to pop a few Tums rather than think too much about my diet.
As Master Chef Marc Bauer demonstrated his recipes, Dr. Jamie Koufman, the principal author of Dropping Acid, also described the prevalence of acid reflux and some of its accompanying symptoms. As she spoke, I realized that I suffered from a number of other symptoms related to acid reflux in addition to heartburn: chronic hoarseness and coughing, the feeling of something stuck in my throat, and a voice that was easily fatigued. After the presentation, I was eager to speak with Dr. Koufman more, and requested an interview. After hearing about my symptoms and the sound of my raspy voice, she suggested I come to her office for treatment so that I could write my story from a patient’s perspective. I was so happy about the project that I nearly burst into tears while telling my mother about it on the phone later that night.
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Since the beginning of the year, I have been undergoing treatment for heartburn. Over the course of this time, I’ve spoken with many people about my condition. Some are simply curious about this process, some have suffered from the condition themselves and others want to offer advice. In fact, many people are convinced they know of the best way to treat my heartburn. Unfortunately, not all health advice is created equal, so I’ll be sticking to the recommendations made by my doctor, Jamie Koufman. Below is a list of some of the myths and misconceptions I’ve encountered most frequently.
Myth #1: Apple Cider Vinegar Can Cure Your Reflux
Apple cider vinegar has been proclaimed as a miracle cure-all for a number of conditions. I won’t go into it’s dubious use as a weight-loss supplement here, but I will discuss how it affects acid reflux.
There are a number of different theories behind why taking a table spoon or two of apple cider vinegar before a meal will prevent reflux. One theory suggests that it can balance your blood’s pH. One theory is that it causes the sphincter to tighten. Another theory claims that if you drink apple cider vinegar before a meal, it will trigger to your body to know that it has “enough” acid and will cut off further acid production.
None of these theories are particularly well grounded in biology or science. “There’s no doctor that I know of that advocates apple cider vinegar,” says Dr. Jamie Koufman, one of the foremost experts in clinical otolaryngology and the author of Dropping Acid. Apple cider vinegar is in fact, very acidic. Consuming something acidic is likely to make reflux worse. “You would think if there was really something behind it, someone would have studied it,” adds Dr. Koufman.
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There’s a long list of things you shouldn’t drink if you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn: orange juice, hot chocolate, carbonated beverages, lemonade, anything with mint and any bottled drinks with added acid. Water is really the best thing for people with reflux to drink, along with low-fat milk.
You may know that I have been undergoing treatment for acid reflux for about two months, under the supervision of Dr. Jamie Koufman at The Voice Institute of New York. Dr. Koufman is one of the authors of Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure. I’m a big lover of tea, and I was happy to hear that there are still several varieties of teas that don’t trigger acid reflux. Some doctors might recommend that patients stay away from caffeine altogether, but Dr. Koufman says that a cup of tea (black, green or white) or coffee with milk per day is fine. It’s the people who drink “a fishbowl” of coffee each day who have a problem. Herbal teas like chamomile and rooibos are good, but any fruit-infused teas will be too acidic.
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I have been undergoing treatment for acid reflux for about two months, with the guidance of Dr. Jamie Koufman, one of the authors of Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure. Like many people who suffer from heartburn, I had a pretty clear idea of my worst trigger foods before seeking medical attention. Coffee, citrus, alcohol and tomato sauce all had me reaching for the Tums.
What I learned from Dr. Koufman is that acid as a food additive is also a contributor to reflux. Acid is added to foods because it prevents the growth of bacteria, but few consumers are aware of the potentially negative consequences of this practice. Things containing ascorbic acid, citric acid, and acetic acid should all be avoided by people suffering from reflux. You should also look out for foods and beverages that are “vitamin C enriched” or “vitamin C enhanced,” which is usually done through the addition of citric acid.
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