Acid reflux occurs when the valve that connects the stomach to the esophagus, or food pipe, is weakened. When this happens, stomach acid flows back into the food pipe.
Because stomach acid is an irritant, the lining of the food pipe also becomes inflamed, and this can cause discomfort.
This article explains the drinks that people who experience acid reflux should not consume, as well as beverages that can serve as a replacement.
Drinks to avoid
Caffeine can aggravate acid reflux symptoms.
Certain beverages pose a particularly high risk when it comes to triggering acid reflux.
Managing the symptoms of acid reflux mainly involves learning and avoiding the triggers. Certain foods and drinks are much more likely to cause acid reflux.
As acid reflux tends to occur quite soon after eating the trigger food, it is usually easy to narrow down the exact cause of the symptoms.
Alcohol further relaxes the valve between the stomach and the food pipe, and it stimulates the stomach to produce more acid.
The bubbles in carbonated beverages expand in the stomach. This puts pressure on the sphincter and can push stomach acid and contents back into the food pipe.
Coffee, tea, and soda contain caffeine, and this chemical aggravates acid reflux. Switching to decaffeinated versions of these drinks can help minimize the symptoms.
Chocolate contains both caffeine and cocoa, and both of these increase the symptoms of acid reflux. Hot cocoa or chocolate milk can, therefore, act as a trigger.
Juices made from citrus fruits, like oranges or grapefruits, are highly acidic. This can worsen acid reflux.
What to drink
There are a limited range of foods that can treat acid reflux.
Avoiding the triggers and foods that cause the symptoms is the best way to soothe the effects of the condition. However, some drinks can help reduce symptoms.
Ginger tea can help soothe the stomach.
Ginger naturally soothes the stomach and can help reduce the production of stomach acid. Caffeine-free ginger tea, with a little honey added as a sweetener, is the best way to consume ginger tea for a person with reflux.
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Ginger ale is unlikely to help, because it is carbonated and may contain caffeine. Most commercial ginger ale sodas also do not contain enough ginger to have an effect.
Dairy products can sometimes reduce the symptoms of acid reflux. People with acid reflux can try a plain yogurt and add some honey for sweetness if needed.
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Low-fat or fat-free varieties of milk can help, but fat content can worsen symptoms. Almond milk can also be effective, as it is alkaline and can neutralize acidity.
Drinking best practices
The way that a person drinks beverages can also worsen acid reflux or heartburn.
Here are some effective methods for reducing symptoms:
- Drink throughout the day to stay hydrated, and avoid drinking large quantities in one sitting.
- Do not consume beverages late at night.
- Stay in an upright position after having something to drink.
Other self-care measures can help to manage acid reflux and other symptoms of GERD include:
- managing body weight
- quitting smoking
- elevating the head of the bed while sleeping
- avoiding clothes with a tight fit
A number of medications are available over the counter (OTC) for heartburn and other symptoms of GERD.
- antacids that neutralize stomach acid, such as Gaviscon or Tums. Various antacid brands are available to buy online.
- H-2-receptor blockers that can decrease acid production in the stomach for up to 12 hours, such as ranitidine (Zantac)
- proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that block acid production for long enough to enable the food pipe to heal
H-2 receptor blockers and PPIs are available from a doctor in a stronger, prescription-only form if OTC medications are not effective. Long-term use may increase the risk of bone fracture, vitamin B-12 deficiency, and certain infections, such as pneumonia and Clostridium difficile.
Symptoms of GERD include:
- acid reflux or heartburn, which is a burning sensation in the throat or chest
- a sour taste in the mouth
- difficulty swallowing
- chest pain
- a sore throat
- a hoarse voice
- dry cough
- a feeling as if there is a lump in the throat
- regurgitating of food or acid
Acid reflux is usually a mild but uncomfortable symptom of GERD.
Pregnancy can cause acid reflux.
Other people have more serious symptoms of GERD that interfere with daily function.
Some medical conditions increase the risk of severe GERD symptoms, including:
- nicotine use
- dry mouth
- certain connective tissue disorders
- hiatal hernia, where the stomach bulges through an opening of the diaphragm
If a person experiences regular and severe episodes of acid reflux or heartburn, they should see a doctor, as it might develop into a more serious condition.
When to see a doctor
Acid reflux, though uncomfortable, is highly treatable.
Some cases can be easily managed at home with some lifestyle changes and the avoidance of triggers. Severe symptoms of GERD may require the use of medication, or in rare cases, surgery.
If an individual has severe or frequent symptoms of acid reflux, they should visit their doctor to rule out other conditions. However, people with occasional or mild reflux can usually keep the condition in check with simple lifestyle changes, home remedies, and OTC medications.
The doctor may want to examine the food pipe to check for any more serious damage to the tissue.
It is especially important to seek medical attention if someone thinks they are experiencing acid reflux or any other symptoms of GERD, but has other symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath, jaw pain, or right arm pain.
These signs may indicate a more serious health problem, such as a heart attack.
Can I drink alcohol, soda, and caffeine if I have reflux?
Some foods can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter and make reflux worse. The most common culprits are alcohol, soda, and caffeine. It is, therefore, best for a person with reflux to avoid these drinks as much as possible.Saurabh (Seth) Sethi, MD MPH Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.