Coffee, Heartburn and Your Stomach

Jan 21 2015 - 12:28pm
coffee, heartburn and your stomach

Americans love the taste, aroma, and even the health benefits of coffee. What some people experience but can do without are the heartburn and associated stomach problems.

Approximately 83 percent of Americans drink coffee, says the National Coffee Association (NCA), and the latest figures from the NCA is that 61 percent consume it daily. Those same current figures show that 18 percent of American adults are downing espresso-type drinks daily compared with 13 percent last year.

Heartburn culprits in coffee?
Several years ago, experts at the University of Vienna and the Technische Universitat Munchen conducted a study and reported that substances in coffee such as caffeine, catechols, and N-alkanoly-5-hydroxytryptamides appear to trigger chemical changes associated with a rise in the production of stomach acid. The study was done using regular, decaffeinated, mild, stomach-friendly, and dark-roast brews.

According to the researchers, a combination of substances, and not a single factor, was associated with stomach irritation and heartburn. On a promising note, they also said that an agent called N-methylpyridium (NMP) seemed to block the production of hydrochloric acid.

NMP is produced when coffee beans are roasted, and since darker roasted coffees such as espresso have higher levels of NMP, such brews could be less irritating (be associated less with heartburn) than lighter brews. Another factor is that the amount of NMP in coffee can vary depending on the roasting process and the bean variety.

Before continuing any further, let’s clarify the relationship between heartburn and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Heartburn is a burning sensation behind the breastbone that can rise in the upper abdomen and travel to the chest. It is a typical symptom of GERD and may be caused by various factors.

Heartburn, along with acid regurgitation and painful swallowing (odynophagia), are highly specific for GERD. Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when your stomach contents rise up into your esophagus. When stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus, it can cause heartburn, also called acid indigestion.

Coffee, heartburn and stomach problems
Nearly 20 percent of people who drink coffee experience heartburn and stomach irritation. Whether you are among this population or not, the findings of several studies are enlightening. For example:
One study looked at the frequency of heartburn produced by a variety of beverages, including coffee, oolong tea, carrot juice, soft drinks, and soju (a rice liquor). Both coffee and soju were the most likely to produce heartburn while tea and carrot juice were the least likely. Decaffeinated coffee was significantly less associated with heartburn than was regular coffee.

A larger and more recent study looked at the association between drinking coffee and four conditions associated with stomach acid: gastric ulcer, duodenal ulcer, reflux esophagitis, and non-erosive reflux disease. A total of 8,013 individuals were involved in the evaluation, of which 5,451 were coffee drinkers and 2,562 were not.

After allowing for factors such as smoking, alcohol use, body mass index, age, gender, and Helicobacter pylori infection status (bacteria associated with ulcers), the investigators made the following comments: