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Does Alcohol Cause Heartburn?

Does Alcohol Cause Heartburn?

For frequent sufferers of acid reflux, the pain of heartburn can put a damper on the enjoyment most of us get from drinking. But what role does alcohol play in causing heartburn, and what can be done to treat alcohol related heartburn?

What Causes Heartburn?

Acid reflux is caused when a ring of muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes and stays open for too long. Normally this muscle only opens to allow food to pass into the stomach, but fatty foods, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol can all cause this muscle to relax allowing stomach acid to splash up above it. When stomach acid splashes against the unprotected tissues above this muscle, it produces the pain commonly known as heartburn.

Many studies have been performed to determine the extent to which alcohol can cause heartburn, and while most of them have found that alcohol is indeed a contributing factor, results on how big a role it plays are mixed. [1] We do know that a high fat and acidic diet plays a larger role than the consumption of alcohol [2], and that some people are more predisposed to the condition than others.

One concern is that alcohol can lead to the formation of peptic ulcers, and can interrupt the healing process of ulcers that are already present. For this reason it is strongly recommended to abstain from drinking alcohol if you have a peptic ulcer.

Reducing Alcohol Induced Heartburn

If you commonly suffer from heartburn when drinking alcohol, there are a few things you can do to help treat and reduce it including:

  • Instead of taking shots, dilute the alcohol you consume by drinking mixed drinks. Be wary of using coke or other caffeinated mixers though, as caffeine can also cause heartburn.
  • Keep track of which drinks cause you the most trouble. If only certain types of drinks cause heartburn, it is an easy fix to avoid them.
  • If you’re drinking wine, drink white instead of red.
  • Slow down your drinking pace. The quicker you consume alcoholic beverages the more likely you are to experience heartburn.
Warning: Combining alcohol and heartburn medications can affect the metabolism of alcohol, leading to elevated blood alcohol levels or other unpleasant side effects.

How to Prevent Heartburn

You also may want to take steps to prevent heartburn in the first place. Many lifestyle habits contribute to one’s likelihood of getting heartburn, and if you change habits which put you at risk you may find that it no longer occurs every time you drink. Ways that you can lower your risk for developing heartburn include:

  • Small frequent meals reduce chances of heartburn. Eating many small meals a day instead of the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner will lower your chances of experiencing it.
  • Avoid caffeine, spicy foods, fatty foods, and red meat.
  • Losing weight has been tied to reduced rates of acid reflux.
  • Avoid tight clothing, it can push against the stomach and force acid up into the esophagus.
  • If you’re a smoker, you’re at a much higher risk of having heartburn. Quitting smoking will reduce your chances of getting it.

Cited Studies

  1. Alcohol Can Trigger Heartburn
  2. The effects of a weakly acidic meal on gastric buffering and postprandial gastro-oesophageal reflux.

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