Heartburn is a burning sensation in the middle of the chest caused by irritation of the esophagus.
This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter fails to close properly after food enters the stomach. This enables gastric acids to move backward (reflux) into the esophagus causing this burning sensation around the center of the chest, called heartburn.
Acid reflux is fairly common with about 2 in 10 people experiencing heartburn in Western countries.
However, recurrent acid reflux is a call for concern as it is usually a symptom of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, more than 2 acid reflux episodes per week).
GERD is a more severe form of acid reflux with symptoms such as
- chest pain
- difficulty in swallowing
- regurgitating food or sour liquid, particularly at night when lying down
Why does tea cause heartburn?
Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world today besides coffee. While people initially drank tea in the past because of its taste and flavor, today tea drinking has become more popular because of the health benefits attached to them.
Some people do experience heartburn after drinking tea. The possible causes are:
- Theophylline: This tea component has been reported by some studies to contribute to relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter causing heartburn and acid reflux consequently.
- Caffeine: Certain types of teas (e.g. black tea or green tea) contain some amount of caffeine, which has been shown to trigger heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms.
- Milk, sugar, lemon: Sometimes symptoms are not triggered by the ingredients added to the tea and not the tea itself.
However, some other studies have found no correlation between tea and heartburn:
Drinking coffee or tea and adding milk or sugar was not associated with reflux symptoms or EE [erosive esophagitis].(source)
Can tea relieve heartburn? – Best tea for heartburn
Some teas have been proven to relieve heartburn. This is mostly because of the anti-inflammatory effect of certain types of teas.
Additionally, the best teas for heartburn also:
- aid digestion
- improve gastric emptying
- or reduce stomach acid secretion
Ginger is a widely used folk remedy with many health benefits. Both experience and studies show that ginger is an effective natural heartburn remedy.
Ginger tea might relieve heartburn symptoms for several reasons:
- Ginger contains phenolic compounds – such as gingerols and shogaols – that relieve irritation of the gastrointestinal walls and reduce gastric contractions.
- Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties as such reduce swelling which is beneficial to the esophagus as inflammation of the esophagus is a crucial trait for acid reflux.
- Furthermore, ginger improves emptying of the gastric content as well as gastroduodenal motility.
Oolong tea has been reported to assist digestion. The tea creates an alkaline environment in the digestive tract thus reducing inflammation for those suffering from acid reflux and ulcers.
Besides its anti-inflammatory properties contribute to reducing inflammation of the esophagus lining.
However. oolong tea also contains some caffeine, which might trigger symptoms for those, who are sensitive to it.
Studies carried out with licorice tea have shown that it is effective for relieving heartburn.
Licorice increases the mucous coating of the lining of the esophagus thus increasing esophageal resistance to irritation from stomach acids.
Licorice also has a long history of treating inflammation as it inhibits prostaglandins synthesis and lipoxygenase.
Chamomile tea lowers gastric acidity preventing the stomach from producing too much acid, an activity that fosters acid reflux.
Its anti-inflammatory property reduces inflammation and irritation of the esophageal walls as well as relaxes the muscles.
Research shows that it calms and eases the nervous system, a property that makes it helpful in treating acid reflux.
Worst tea for heartburn
While certain teas might relieve heartburn, others tend to exacerbate symptoms.
A type of tea might be bad for heartburn for the following reasons:
- contains caffeine
- highly acidic
- relaxes the LES
Peppermint tea has an adverse effect when it comes to acid reflux. Peppermint has anti-spasmodic activities on the smooth muscles and causes the lower esophageal sphincter to relax increasing the risk of heartburn and acid reflux.
Fruit-infused teas are also a bad choice for people with acid reflux. These include the likes of lemon and orange teas.
These fruits have high acid content which could alter the pH of your entire tea and when consumed worsen heartburn.
People suffering from acid reflux have been advised to stay away from acidic fruits for this very reason.
Black tea (also called red tea) has a higher caffeine content than other teas (~47mg per cup) and caffeine is a likely trigger for acid reflux (albeit some studies debate this).
Thus, people suffering from heartburn are usually advised to stay away from high caffeine-containing drinks and teas like coffee and black tea.
Decaf tea and heartburn
Caffeine, which is the major component of most coffee and tea varieties, is said to be a possible trigger for acid reflux and heartburn in some individuals because it can relax the lower esophageal sphincter.
Decaf teas have lesser caffeine content than their original counterparts. Black tea for example contains about 47mg of caffeine per 8 ounces of tea whereas when decaffeinated, its caffeine content drops to 2mg per 8 ounces.
From what we know about high caffeine content, this should generally mean little or no trigger for acid reflux.
One old study reported that decaffeination of tea had no effect on acid reflux, however, more research to this to support such claims needs to be done as there are no recent studies or data on this subject.
Can sweet tea cause heartburn?
Sweet tea is tea made by adding sugar or syrup to brewing or hot black tea.
Sugar by itself does not give heartburn but when combined with triggers such as black tea then it might trigger heartburn.
Sweet teas can sometimes be flavored with triggers such as lemon and mint which from our discussions above have been associated with acid reflux and heartburn.
Cold or hot tea? Which is better for heartburn?
The temperature of tea and its effect on gastric reflux and heartburn has not really been studied and as such, there is no available scientific data to establish any association to that effect.
However, both very hot and very cold drinks might trigger pain around the center of the chest, which feels like heartburn. The most common reasons for such pain are:
- Hot and cold drinks can cause esophageal spasms, which might feel like heartburn.
- Esophageal erosion is a common problem among long-term heartburn sufferers. People suffering from this condition might experience pain due to rapid temperature changes in the esophagus.
- Hot drinks are also associated with the risk of esophageal cancer. however, there seems to be no solid evidence for this connection.
Even though the scientific data is scarce, it is probably a good idea to avoid both very hot and very cold beverages.
Tea can both trigger and relieve heartburn, depending on the type.
Black and green teas are probably the worse for heartburn, but certain herbal teas might also cause symptoms (e.g. peppermint).
Other herbal teas are often used to relieve heartburn symptoms. Ginger tea is probably the best tea for heartburn. Its positive effects are not only backed by long-term use, but also scientific data. Camomille and licorice teas are also great choices.
Even though there is no sufficient scientific data on it, it’s still probably a good idea to avoid teas that are very hot, very cold, or high in sugar.