Alcohol can damage the esophagus, which may worsen symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Additionally, alcohol use may increase the risk of developing GERD.

GERD is a chronic condition that occurs when stomach contents come back up into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube through which food passes from a person’s throat to their stomach.

GERD may cause symptoms such as heartburn, indigestion, and nausea. If doctors do not treat GERD, it may lead to complications over time.

Experts estimate that around 20% of people in the United States have GERD. It is more common in older adults and people who smoke, are pregnant, or have obesity.

This article explores the link between alcohol and GERD. It also discusses some diet and lifestyle tips to help manage GERD, recommended alcohol intake, and when to contact a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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According to a 2019 review of 29 studies, consuming alcohol is a significant risk factor for developing GERD. Researchers found that increasing alcohol intake and drinking frequency demonstrated a stronger link with GERD.

Researchers noted that alcohol may damage the cells in the esophageal and gastric (stomach) linings. They also found that alcohol not only affects the function of the esophagus in healthy people but also causes symptoms in those with inflammation of the esophagus.

Another review from 2017 explains that alcohol, as well as smoking, can decrease the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing acid from the stomach to come back up into the esophagus.

The LES is a band of muscles located where the stomach meets the esophagus. Its function is to protect the esophagus from the highly acidic secretions of the stomach.

When the LES functions normally, it remains contracted until a person needs to swallow food. However, in someone with GERD, the LES relaxes more often, compromising the tight seal against stomach acid.

Additionally, healthcare organizations, such as the American College of Gastroenterology and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, recommend people with GERD avoid drinking alcoholic beverages because they may trigger or worsen symptoms.

Learn more about the esophageal sphincters and how they work.

In addition to alcohol, other foods and beverages may affect GERD.

The American College of Gastroenterology advises that the following foods and drinks may trigger symptoms or irritate the lining of the esophagus:

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends that if people with GERD experience symptoms at night or while lying down, they should eat meals at least 3 hours before they lie down or go to bed.

If a person has any symptoms in bed, they can try elevating their head by placing a foam wedge or extra pillows underneath it.

In addition, making other lifestyle modifications, like quitting smoking or losing weight, may also benefit some people with GERD. However, a person can speak with their doctor for advice and support.

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The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that if adults choose to drink alcohol, they should limit their intake to 2 drinks per day for males and 1 drink per day for females.

The guidelines advise against binge drinking, which they define as 5 or more drinks for males or 4 or more for females within about 2 hours.

The guidelines note that evidence suggests drinking even within the recommended limits may increase the risk of death due to a range of causes, including some types of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Furthermore, a 2022 review notes that light alcohol consumption of 3 or fewer drinks a week is associated with GERD.

People with symptoms of GERD can see a doctor for a diagnosis. The doctor may review someone’s medical history and lifestyle to help them diagnose GERD. In addition, the doctor may order tests, such as a gastrointestinal endoscopy.

People with GERD may develop further complications inside and outside the esophagus. Therefore, a person needs to make their doctor aware of any new symptoms or changes to existing symptoms.

A healthcare professional can also advise on lifestyle changes, such as modifying diet and reducing alcohol intake.

Evidence suggests that drinking alcohol increases the risk of GERD. Low alcohol consumption may be associated with the disease.

Alcohol may damage the lining of the esophagus and relaxes the LES, which makes it more likely that stomach acid will come back into the esophagus. Therefore, experts advise people with GERD to avoid alcoholic drinks.

In addition to avoiding alcohol, people may try avoiding fatty, spicy, and certain other types of foods and beverages. Quitting smoking and managing weight may also help reduce GERD symptoms in some people.

A person can speak with a healthcare professional if they think they may have GERD. Additionally, people with GERD can discuss any new symptoms or changes in symptoms with a doctor.