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There is a lot of debate about coffee and acid reflux. The general consensus is that coffee will cause acid reflux, but I disagree. Just like the general population, coffee will cause problems for some people, and for other people it won’t.
The really short answer to the title of this article is definitely a ‘Yes’, but I think a more appropriate question to ask something more along the lines of ‘When can coffee cause GERD?’ We can only pinpoint the real cause of reflux when we can understand how things work.
As a summary to what you are about to read, I can tell you that coffee presses 7 of the buttons that cause acid reflux in your body. So, if you have a problem in any of those 7 areas, then yes, you will get acid reflux. However, if you are completely healthy, and you are not over consuming coffee, then everything will be just fine.
I have summarized each of the 7 areas in the conclusion to this post if you are keen to get the answer upfront. Just scroll to the bottom of the page.
Otherwise, read on to find out why coffee affects us the way that it does and how it can cause acid reflux in some people.
The biggest myth I have heard about coffee is this:“Coffee causes acid reflux because it is acidic to the body, and acidic foods exacerbate reflux.”
This statement is repeated a lot, but does it have any basis? Some shortcomings are:
It doesn’t explain why some acidic foods decrease acid reflux while others increase it.
It doesn’t explain the inconsistencies about foods that eventually turn acidic or alkaline through processes in the body.
As an example, I used to experience a lot of acid reflux when I ate leafy greens and green tea. According to the myths, these types of foods are alkalizing to the body (not acidic) and should not increase the symptoms. This never worked for me and I know it doesn’t work for many other people. So where is the logic?
Let’s look a little more deeply at the situation.
There are a few important points to note about coffee that has been neglected amongst the acid-reflux community.
It comes from a plant. This will be significant for some people. In general all plants contain toxins and poisons. Different parts of the coffee bean affect different people in different ways.
Coffee generally comes in one of two ways – ground and brewed from the beans or as an instant product. These can affect you differently.
Caffeine is classed as a drug because it changes the way that the body functions. This point is very important. By itself it is not bad, but coupled with health issues, it can cause acid reflux.
These 4 points may not seem like very much but they account for a lot of what the body has to deal with when we drink coffee.
Caffeine is an insecticide that is produced naturally by the coffee plant. It does some pretty horrible things to humans (including death!) and if you can’t detoxify it quickly, it just keeps doing damage to your body – and just builds up if you keep drinking coffee regularly.
There are high amounts of caffeine in the leaves, stems and flowers of the coffee plant, and smaller amounts in the fruit (the coffee bean). This is toxic to leaf-eating insects and animals, and it kills them if they don’t stop munching away on the leaves. It’s a protection mechanism built into the plant.
It is also toxic to other plants, believe it or not! When the coffee leaves fall from the bush, they disperse caffeine into the ground, making it difficult for other plants to grow. By doing this, the coffee plant stops other plants from competing for the surrounding soil.
As a poison for humans, coffee causes death by heart arrhythmia or cardiac arrest. A lethal dose is about 2 teaspoons, but death can occur at doses much smaller than this, depending on whether the person has ingested other substances such as alcohol and energy drinks, and whether the person has any other medical conditions.
But the story gets more interesting. Do you recognize any of these symptoms of caffeine toxicity?
Jitters, Restlessness, and Nervousness
Heart palpitations (cardiac arrhythmia)
This list is in order of severity. The symptoms at the bottom of the list are more serious than those at the top. Have you experienced many of those? I certainly have over the years!How quickly can your body get rid of the poison from your body?
It turns out that as humans, we have a gene that makes detoxifying fast or slow. It is the CYP1A2 gene and there are two versions of it. One version allows fast metabolism of caffeine to get it out of the bloodstream quickly. The other version metabolizes caffeine very slowly, allowing it to build up in the system.
In studies of healthy people (with healthy livers), those who were able to remove the caffeine quickly experienced health benefits such as less heart disease, whereas those who detoxify caffeine slowly tend to suffer an increased risk of heart disease and other problems because the caffeine continues to circulate throughout the body for a lot longer.
In many people, some conditions or situations can impair the liver’s ability to detoxify the body. This can include disease such as cirrhosis of the liver, toxic environments or the consumption of foods that need detoxifying, including alcohol, sweet drinks and foods made with fructose.
So, how much is too much? Death by over consumption of caffeine is certainly a reality. You can see evidence of this in this study. There are also some documented cases of caffeine overconsumption which you can read on this page.
Too much is probably when it is making you jittery or you experience some of the other symptoms listed above. If you have other health conditions, then you want to be very cautious.
If your ability to detoxify your body is diminished, this can lead to toxins circulating your body, leading to increased damage to the body and an increase in acid reflux symptoms. If you are completely healthy, consumption of a poison like this will not affect you.
But since you are reading this post, I imagine coffee may be causing you some grief. In that case, your acid reflux could be a sign that your detoxification levels are not very high or that your adrenal glands are already overworked. We’ll look at adrenal glands a little more in a moment.
As a side-note to the ‘poisons’ topic, most of the coffee that is available commercially is riddled with mold. Mold tends to produce substances called Mycotoxins, which are basically fungal poisons.
Mycotoxins have been well-studied and they are known to be associated with many different illnesses, including leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux disease. There is a big list of other diseases that they can cause, but these seem the most apt to our discussion.
The best way to avoid this type of problem is to buy coffee that has been obtained from a single source (not a blend of beans from various places). It is best if it is organic, but the most important point is to source it from places like South America where coffee beans are grown in high altitudes.
Growing conditions in these places like these are less humid and less likely to suffer from mold contamination.
The downside of consuming plants for health should be covered in another article, but it may be interesting to note that caffeine is not the only ‘poison’ present in coffee beans. There are also oils that can carry various other toxins from the plant, as well as bean proteins that the body is unable to break down.
Within the bean, there are protein particles called lectins. Lectins are found in all seeds and this includes beans and grains. There are hundreds of different types of lectins in nature, but the most famous lectin that everyone has heard of is gluten.
Gluten comes from wheat and it is no surprise that gluten sensitivity is so widespread in modern society. Is there any food that does not contain wheat? We tend to eat it at every meal, and in between meals – breads, pasta, noodles, pastries, sweets, snacks…
The “health” community has jumped in to provide products that are “gluten-free”, but unfortunately the substitute products are still made from seeds, beans and grains. In any particular “health” product the offending lectin may not be gluten, but it will be a lectin of another type in its place.
For many people, the sensitivities end there with gluten. For other people, the sensitivities will be triggered by any type of lectin. There is a name for this called “gluten cross-reactivity”. It really just means that you are having a reaction to a lectin in a similar way to gluten.So what does this mean for acid-reflux sufferers?
Lectins can cause some severe damage to the body. From damage to the gut lining, to back pain, arthritis or knees that are wearing out to autoimmune diseases. Lectins are proteins that attach themselves to sugar particles, and the right sugar particles exist in these locations (cartilage in the back and knees, etc). So if your knees are wearing out, you may want to look at your diet.
If lectins are getting into your bloodstream, the immune system will normally react. It does this by attacking the molecule as well as any other molecule in the body that appears similar. This is a common way that autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease or lupus begin.
If lectins are causing acid-reflux, it is most likely because you have leaky gut syndrome and lectins are getting inside. In the meantime, they will normally also make the leaky gut situation worse.So, is there any way to avoid the lectins in coffee?
The lectin content in coffee is actually fairly low. After harvesting, the drying and roasting of the bean reduces its lectin content. But still, many people continue to be affected by it.
The level of lectins remaining will differ depending on the variety of the bean and the conditions in which it was grown. In some cases it will be very little and other cases it will still be too much. Different coffee types may give you different results.
The best way to reduce lectins further is to get rid of any trace of coffee grounds from the drink. Anecdotal accounts suggest that filtered coffee is less likely to cause digestive upset.
The usual espresso versions of coffee are made by passing boiling water through the coffee bean grounds and straight into the cup, taking all the bean particles with it.
In comparison, filtered coffee works better for many people because the coffee grounds are completely removed from the drink. This may be something that you can try out if all your other caffeine symptoms are not so big.
Espresso coffee, brewed directly into a cup, is a natural and unadulterated product. There is a little processing involved (more to our benefit, I believe), but otherwise it is fresh and natural.
This is not always the case with instant coffee. As an instant product there is almost no knowing what is involved in the processing before it arrives packaged as ‘instant coffee’
Some brands of coffee contain detergents or solvents to help disperse the particles in water quickly.
Many instant coffees are processed with wheat and have gluten or wheat particles in the new brew – a sure way to cause gut problems through lectin and wheat sensitivities.
Most studies on acid reflux and coffee consumption used instant coffee as the source. This was quite an error, since the results could have been showing a reaction to coffee or a reaction to wheat, gluten/lectins, solvents or additives. Many people don’t experience acid reflux when it is in the fresh brewed form.
Some instant varieties are freeze-dried versions of natural brewed coffee. If there has been no other processing at all, then these may be OK.
The take-away is that it may be best to avoid instant coffees altogether (unless you find one that really works for you), and drink freshly brewed filtered coffee.
This is where things get really interesting.
Caffeine kicks your body into “fight or flight” mode, and everything changes.
Your nervous system gets involved, your brain pumps our dopamine, your kidneys get adrenaline going as well as cortisol, and any organ not related to life-and-death survival is switched off.
No wonder most people get a buzz out of coffee!
But in the process, and in one hit, we have just found 3 major ways that coffee can cause acid reflux.
Let’s have a look at how that all works…
First, your brain sends out dopamine. This wakes you up, makes you feel alert and gets you focused on what you need to do.
Your adrenal glands then take up the dopamine and change it up to churn out adrenaline hormones. This really gets you going – it puts you on edge, ready to perform fast and furious activity.
Cortisol also gets released by your adrenal glands. This helps to reduce pain, so if you are going to be exerting yourself physically, you won’t be held back. Cortisol also makes you break down muscle cells and other parts of your body.
OK, let’s pause there and have a look. Here is the first scenario where you could be experiencing acid reflux…
If “fight or flight” mode is just a state that you get into once every so often, then that would be fine. Getting into this state just before a big workout could even be really helpful.
If you are normally stressed out, always thinking about the problems with work, money, family or whatever, then you are most likely in this state most of the time. If there is any feeling of impending doom or you are constantly looking out for a solution to present itself, then your adrenal glands will be working to keep you alert.
When this happens, the adrenal glands become overworked. They can’t support all the other needs of the body if they are continually pumping out adrenaline and cortisol. This can result in ‘adrenal fatigue’ and drinking coffee can push you over the limit.
When adrenal fatigue sets in, your thyroid slows down, to help save the body from the damage that all the cortisol is doing.
This is where acid reflux begins. And this is one reason why stress can be a big trigger for acid reflux.
And continuing on…
Since the adrenaline has come out, your liver dumps a stack of sugar into the blood stream for some quick energy (for all that fast and furious activity you’re about to do, lol)..
You’re going to need to burn that sugar that’s in the bloodstream, so your pancreas sends out insulin so that the sugars can get into the cells that need it.
And here is the 2nd cause of reflux we mentioned: Metabolic Syndrome. If you have any form of heart disease, very high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or poor cholesterol readings, then you have metabolic Syndrome. All these diseases are caused by the damaging effects of prolonged exposure to sugar and/or insulin in the bloodstream.
So, let’s go on to the third reason…
…Activation of your sympathetic nervous system. The dopamine that was released at the beginning has already got your central nervous system primed and your feeling of motivation piqeud. When the adrenaline comes out you are completely switched on.
The nervous system is like wiring from the brain that extends all the way around your body – to all the muscles and organs, and to all the receptors that allow you to feel things.
There are different sections of the nervous system and the one that kicks in when we drink coffee is called the sympathetic nervous system. It makes sure that all the body’s resources are directed to the limbs and parts of the body for extreme physical exertion.
That means, all the organs that control digestion get switched off. Any food that is sitting in the gut just remains there. The stomach doesn’t create acid, the pancreas and liver don’t produce the enzymes needed for good digestion.
This is a major reason for acid reflux symptoms, and for people that are always stressed, lack of digestion will always be a problem.
I often hear people say that coffee gives you energy. As you can see, this is not quite true. What it does is get you wired and focused, and depletes your resources to do so.
There is more than one way that coffee affects our sleep.
And poor sleep can lead to acid reflux symptoms. There is a whole list of reasons why lack of sleep does this, and that discussion is for another time.
The first way that coffee disrupts sleep is by blocking the sensors to make us drowsy. The caffeine molecule is almost exactly the same as another molecule in the brain called adenosine. There are special proteins in the brain called adenosine receptors. They would normally detect the amount of adenosine floating around and induce a feeling of drowsiness. Instead, caffeine attaches itself to the receptors, blocking out adenosine, and keeps us awake for longer.
With the adenosine receptors all blocked up, the body also fails to detect GABBA – the body’s natural tranquilliser. GABBA normally promotes a sense of calm, but with coffee, this doesn’t get much of a look in.
And if you are the type of person that tends to fall asleep easily despite the caffeine, don’t think that you’ve escaped unscathed. Whether you like it or not, your quality of sleep will be very poor (It reduces stage IV sleep).
As a general rule, don’t drink coffee after noon. This gives time for the caffeine to completely break down before bedtime.
The other way coffee can affect sleep is by reducing serotonin levels. If you are drinking coffee every day, the dopamine that boosts your mood also depletes serotonin over time. Serotonin has some special functions in the body. It regulates pain control, immune function and a number of other functions that specifically affect acid reflux. These are: sleep cycles, carbohydrate cravings, and digestion! All of these are acid reflux danger zones.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are not a direct cause of acid reflux, but a deficiency can cause other diseases that then lead to reflux disease.
Coffee is a diuretic. That is why so many people will be away for a bowel movement soon after drinking a cup of coffee. It also dehydrates the body of fluid which is passed out through the bladder.
The diuretic action depletes the body of potassium and magnesium. And depending on how much coffee you drink, you may also excrete vitamins A, D, E, K and many of the B vitamins.
Coffee can also block the absorption of iron and zinc in the digestive system along with other minerals. This is because of the phytic acid content of the coffee bean.
Most people these days are eating foods with very low nutrient profiles. And when they add coffee to their daily routine – no wonder people are so susceptible to illness.
Decaf coffee might be a really good substitute for the people who just need to get away from the caffeine component of coffee. This can save on the difficulties of exacerbating stress, adrenal fatigue and metabolic Syndrome.
Decaf doesn’t produce the same buzz to your mental state, but if you are like me, you might just like having that hot drink in the morning.
Decaf won’t save you from the troubles that originate from plant troubles such as the mineral deficiencies, developing leaky gut and autoimmune diseases.
If you are going for decaf, just make sure you get one that has been put through water processing rather than the chemical processing that you will find in most commercial versions.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell if coffee is affecting you at all. If you don’t get that coffee ‘buzz’ (I certainly don’t) you could be thinking that it is not affecting you negatively either.
If you are a regular coffee drinker, the only real way to tell is to give up coffee for at least 3 weeks – 4 is even better. Make notes about how you are feeling, especially toward the end when any coffee addiction is wearing off.
Then reintroduce coffee back in and take notes about all the symptoms of how you feel. What are all the differences between when you are not drinking coffee vs when you are.
If you find that you absolutely need to drink coffee to be able to function, to kick you into gear, then this is almost a sure sign of adrenal fatigue.
Coffee itself does not cause acid reflux.
Coffee can improve health and longevity in someone who is already completely healthy. In someone who has some health conditions, then coffee may make those worse, and also lead to acid reflux symptoms. Coffee simply highlights the weaknesses in your body that are causing your symptoms.
If you already experience acid reflux, this is a sign that you already have other underlying health conditions.
Although coffee does not cause acid reflux symptoms in everyone, it exacerbates 7 of the conditions that do cause acid reflux. We looked at them in the discussion above. Here they are in a few sentences:
Liver conditions or slow metabolism – If you are experiencing more acid reflux symptoms after drinking coffee, then you could have some sort of liver disease – fatty liver disease is very common – or you are just a slow detoxifier of caffeine and should think about how many cups of coffee you drink each day.
Adrenal Fatigue – if you already suffer from this then coffee is going to increase the symptoms
Leaky gut syndrome – just about any gut disturbance can cause acid reflux, but leaky gut is where holes have formed in the lining of the intestines, allowing undigested proteins and other large particles to enter your bloodstream. This can be made worse by lectins in the coffee and can lead to very serious diseases.
Autoimmune disease – If you already have leaky gut, then you may be in danger of developing an autoimmune condition if you don’t have one already. If lectins or other unusual particles are able to enter the bloodstream, they can make these types of conditions worse. Acid reflux is often caused by diseases such as Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s disease.
Metabolic Syndrome is a cause of acid reflux symptoms. Coffee can increase metabolic syndrome or add to the level of it.
Poor quality sleep can add to reflux symptoms through a variety of mechanisms.
Vitamin or mineral deficiencies – this type of thing can be related to any number of diseases, which could eventually lead to acid reflux symptoms.
Hopefully this provides some pieces of the puzzle and can help you on your path to solving the underlying causes of your acid reflux issues.
If you have any questions or have identified with anything in this post, I would love to hear about it in the comments below.