Alcohol and Acid Reflux (GERD)
What is Acid Reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflex Disease (GERD)?
Acid reflux is caused by damage to a stomach valve, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This valve opens to let food enter the stomach, and should close before stomach acid enters the esophagus.
In the case of acid reflux, the valve is not closing correctly (either not enough or not at all.) The result is acid entering the esophagus, and a burning taste in the back of your throat, called heartburn. Also, there may be pain or pressure in the chest area.
Heartburn pain is extremely common, and the existence of heartburn does not necessarily indicate a full-blown disease. However, if you are experiencing this on a regular basis, you are probably a candidate for GERD.
What are the Triggers/Causes of Acid Reflux?
There is not just one factor involved in acid reflux. Some people just seem to have it worse than others, or have varying triggers.
Usually, management of symptoms is the best way to approach this condition. This usually means avoiding food and drink triggers which can contribute to GERD. And while there is conflicting research, alcoholic beverages are widely believed to be among the biggest offenders.
Other triggers may include chocolate, coffee/caffeine, and spicy foods.
Alcohol and Acid Reflux – How are they Related?
One study, published in BMC Gastroenterology revealed symptoms of GERD increased when alcohol consumption increased.
However, another study in the Gut journal reported different results. It was reported that alcohol was NOT a risk factor for acid reflux. Also, research by Stanford was unable to determine that alcohol cessation actually improved acid reflux.
The general consensus is that alcohol may indeed contribute to the disease in some cases, but that it has not been fully proven.
Alcohol and Acid Reflux – Liquor
According to some research, moderate amounts of liquor, especially if it is high proof, can reduce the esophagus’ ability to clear acid when lying down.
The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study using 40% whiskey and monitored the effects. GERD symptoms increased in those who consumed the whiskey after lying down.
Wine and Beer
A Gastroenterology study compared effects of beer and wine in young adults. An association could not be found between acid reflux symptoms and wine consumption. Oddly, however, those who drank the most beer tended to have a decrease in acid reflux.
Then again, yet another study in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics compared water, wine, and beer effects on GERD symptoms. It was reported that indeed, beer and wine did increase symptoms versus water alone.
Alcohol and Acid Reflux: The Verdict
Keep in mind that GERD is a multi-faceted disease, and if you are having symptoms, they are not likely caused by one thing alone. That said, if you are finding an increase in symptoms after drinking alcohol of any kind, you should probably abstain.
Acid reflux can, in some cases, lead to a condition called Barrett’s Disease. This occurs when stomach acid scars the inside of the esophagus after long-term, repeated exposure. This scarring puts one at a greater risk of esophageal cancer, which has a very poor prognosis.
Also, when combined with the other detrimental health effects caused by alcohol, there will likely be overlapping effects which may impair overall digestive health.
If you or someone you know is an alcoholic, please seek help immediately.