Help for Heartburn Sufferers Who Love Coffee

Can't enjoy a cup of coffee because of heartburn? Here's some news that will cheer you up: Researchers from the University of Vienna in Austria and the Technische Universität München in Germany reported that dark-roasted coffee (such as espresso and French roast) may be easier to stomach.

It appears these roasts contain a substance that tells the stomach to reduce production of acid—a discovery that was made by accident.

The researchers first tried to isolate specific irritants in coffee that increase acid production. They exposed cultures of human stomach cells to regular, dark-roast, mild, decaffeinated, and stomach-friendly coffee blends. They identified several substances—caffeine, catechols, and other ingredients—that increase stomach acid.

"Our data show, for the first time, that caffeine, catechols, and N-alkanoly-5-hydroxytryptamides are those coffee components that stimulate molecular mechanisms of stomach acid secretion in human stomach cells," researcher Veronika Somoza. Ph.D said in a press release from the American Chemical Society. "We found out there's no single, key irritant. It is a mixture of compounds that seem to cause the irritant effect of coffee."

However, one surprising find may help the heartburn-prone java lover: one of coffee's components, N-methylpyridium (NMP), "seems to block the ability of the stomach cells to produce hydrochloric acid and could provide a way to reduce or avoid stomach irritation." The researchers explained that NMP is created during the roasting process, which is why darker-roasted coffees contain higher amounts of this stomach-friendly coffee ingredient.

More research is needed and unfortunately, it may be a while before you can brew a cup that won't be coupled with reflux. But, there are things you can try to stay wide-eyed. Here are some tips John E. Pandolfino, MD, Gastoenterologist, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago has to get your caffeine fix if you're prone to heartburn:

  • Add milk or cream to your cup of joe to help neutralize its acidity. Be careful about frappuccinos and other high-fat, high-caloric beverages. Beyond any irritant in the coffee, the high fat and calorie content may affect how the stomach empties, and result in reflux.
  • Experiment with different coffee blends to find one that may be softer on your stomach. "Some of my patients have had success with Folgers® Simply Smooth," says Pandolfino. It's not a low-acid coffee, but according to the company's website, the beans are roasted to reduce certain irritants in the coffee.
  • If you've tried different coffee blends and you just can't drink it without experiencing reflux symptoms, try tea. It has a slightly higher pH, which means it's less acidic, explains Pandolfino. Green tea and black tea are good, and it doesn't matter if the tea is caffeinated or decaffeinated.




American Chemical Society press release:
Brewing up a gentler java: Dark-roasted coffee contains stomach-friendly ingredient

John E. Pandolfino, MD, Gastroenterology, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago