A cup of coffee – Is it the first thing you think about in the morning? For millions it is, but for those of us who suffer heartburn, acid reflux or even gerd (gord), we often think twice before reaching for the coffee pot.
Coffee frequently appears as a heartburn trigger food which is to be avoided by anyone prone to this condition. But what is it that gives it this reputation, and in practice is it deserved – would, after all, a cup of something which gives so much pleasure to many offset momentarily the misery of having to live with acid reflux on a frequent basis?
Conventional wisdom suggests that coffee (and tea for that matter) are bad if you suffer from acid reflux and gerd. It relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), thus allowing acidic stomach contents to flow into the esophagus.
Also, coffee is described as an acidic food, adding to the acidity in the stomach and therefore possibly acting as a heartburn trigger.
A study published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics found that drinking regular (caffeinated) coffee led to significant reflux effects whilst the decaffeination of coffee significantly reduced reflux symptoms.
A further study in 2010 by Veronika Somoza, PhD, of the University of Vienna in Austria, and Thomas Hofmann, PhD, of the Technische Universitat Munchen in Germany showed that substances found in coffee such as caffeine, catechols, and N-alkanoly-5-hydroxytryptamides seem to trigger chemical changes associated with an increased production of acid.
However, a Stanford University study evaluated medical reports published from 1975 to 2004. The study found no scientific evidence to support the contention that eliminating coffee helps to avoid reflux. Another study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology also found that caffeinated coffee had no effect on acid reflux.
The other thing to bear in mind is the overall beneficial effects of coffee, a number of which have been supported by research. For example there is evidence to suggest it helps you burn fat, lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, and protect you from dementia, Alzheimers, Parkinsons and some forms of cancer. See ref 1. below.
What Somoza and Hofman also found was that a component called N-methylpyridium (NMP) appears to have a beneficial effect by blocking the ability of stomach cells to produce hydrochloric acid. NMP does not occur naturally in the bean, and only appears when the beans are roasted; darker-roasted coffees contain a greater amount of NMP, which means espresso, French roast, and other dark-roasted brews may actually be less irritating to the stomach. The amount of NMP in any specific coffee can vary depending on the variety of bean and how the coffee is roasted.
In my view, the take away from this is pretty simple: drink coffee if it doesn’t regularly trigger heartburn, and make it a dark, rich blend. If it does cause acid reflux symptoms, try a decaffeinated blend, or enjoy a cup less frequently and control the symptoms another way – say through Tums or Rennies (the pleasure of the drink may even create endorphins and improve your overall well being!).
There are now a number of coffees on the market, often termed low or no acid coffee, which are aimed directly at those who suffer from heartburn and acid reflux. These include Puroast Low Acid Coffee here (US) and here (UK)
They seem to have secret methods to reduce acid, but at the end of the day how do they taste, and will it have an effect on acid reflux / heartburn? I decided to test the Puroast coffee which boasts that it has 70% less acid than other coffees, and 7 times more antioxidants than green tea. The coffee is produced using a special, unspecified, roasting technique which results in a low acidity and high antioxidant level.
I chose the Dark French Roast to test. The 12 oz / 340 g packet displays a bright, Mexican style design, which hints at the origin of the coffee beans used in the production. Usefully, it sports a metal band around the top which facilitates a virtual airtight seal after opening.
Once open, the smell exhibits all the headiness of that usual intoxicating coffee aroma. Preparing the brew according to the instructions on the packet (simply 2 tablespoons for each cup in a cafetiere or filter) the coffee produces a rich, deep flavour with a hint of nuttiness. There is no suggestion of bitterness and the aftertaste has a characteristic creamy taste. The overall impression is of a full flavour coffee with a satisfying taste, easily holding its own with the best of ground coffees I’ve tried.
But what about the acid test – what were the after effects of the coffee on digestion? Well, for me, the experience was entirely positive – it wasn’t a heartburn trigger. I didn’t experience any symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn as a result of sampling this coffee on a number of occasions, and I will certainly add it to my collection of reflux aids.
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