Is oolong tea good for acid reflux?

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Oolong tea has many health benefits and might soothe acid reflux symptoms. However, its caffeine and tannin content might trigger heartburn for some people.

What is oolong tea?

Oolong tea

Oolong tea is a traditional herbal tea (Camellia sinensis) of Chinese origin.

Unlike green tea which is not oxidized and black tea which is fully oxidized, oolong tea is partially oxidized. Its processing starts with withering the harvested leaves under strong sunlight, oxidizing them, and lastly curling and twisting them.

Oxidization is the process of exposing the tea leaves to air to allow them to ferment, imparting certain color, flavor, taste, and nutritional value characteristics of oxidized teas.

For example, oxidization results in the formation of theaflavins, responsible for both the color and astringency of oolong tea.

Oolong tea is sometimes sweetened and flavored with fruits, honey, and/or other aromas.

The benefits of drinking oolong tea

Oolong Tea Health Benefits
A short video about the health benefits of oolong tea. Duration: 2:12.

Oolong tea contains three main polyphenols namely, theaflavins, thearubigins, and EGEC (epigallocatechin), which are responsible for its numerous health benefits:

  • Cognitive benefits: Oolong tea contains the amino acid L-theanine which has been shown to improve cognitive performance and helps in relaxation.
  • Antioxidant activities: Its antioxidant activities protect against oxidative stress, as it sequesters free radicals that cause cell destruction. This strengthens the immune system and prevents cancer such as pancreatic and colon cancer.
  • Diabetes management: Oolong tea has been proven to protect against diabetes and diabetic complications by easing insulin resistance and decreasing inflammation. It has been successfully used in the management of type 2 diabetes, improving blood sugar regulation.
  • Heart health: The polyphenols in oolong tea help to break down fat and protect the artery walls. This decreases the risk of heart problems.

Is oolong tea good for acid reflux?

Oolong tea has been shown to be beneficial to people suffering from acid reflux.

Oolong tea contains phenolic compounds such as EGCG, which have anti-inflammatory properties that contribute to reducing inflammation of the esophagus lining.

These anti-inflammatory activities result in

  • reduction in gastric contractions
  • reduction in swelling
  • relieve from irritation of the gastrointestinal walls

These are beneficial to the esophagus as inflammation and irritation, of the esophagus are crucial traits for acid reflux.

Oolong tea creates an alkaline environment in the digestive tract which helps in reducing inflammation for those suffering from acid reflux and ulcers.

Furthermore, this study found that oolong tea effectively prevents obesity, which is a risk factor for acid reflux.

Can oolong tea trigger heartburn?

Despite the beneficial effects of oolong tea, sometimes oolong tea can be a heartburn trigger.

These are the common causes of experiencing acid reflux after drinking oolong tea:

  • Drinking too much: Eating or drinking too much of anything makes your stomach full, increases pressure. therefore digestive juices are more likely to backflow into the esophagus.
  • Caffeine: Oolong tea has a caffeine content of 37mg per 8 ounces (1 cup). This is not too much (most coffees contain 100+mg caffeine), however, it might trigger symptoms for those, who are sensitive to caffeine.
  • Tannins: When taken in large amounts, tannins might cause stomach irritation, nausea, or vomiting.

Caffeine, oolong tea & acid reflux

Besides drinking too much, caffeine is a possible cause of experiencing acid reflux after oolong tea consumption.

Caffeine is known to relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which opens to let food into the stomach from the esophagus and closes to prevent the backflow of food. Relaxation of the sphincter impairs proper closing up after food passes, thus stomach acids can flow back triggering heartburn.

This study found that 3.5mg/kg of bodyweight caffeine was enough to relax the LES. Since oolong tea contains ~37mg of caffeine in one cup, roughly speaking, you should drink one cup of tea for every 10 kg of body weight to get symptoms.

This means 6-8 cups for a healthy adult. Most people don’t drink that much tea.

If oolong tea gives you acid reflux, you might be more sensitive to caffeine or some other component that is triggering the symptoms.

Is oolong tea acidic?

Oolong tea has a pH range between 5.5-7, which is considered slightly acidic. However, this is unlikely to play a significant role in causing acid reflux, as the stomach is much more acidic than this.

Is oolong tea good for the digestive system?

Oolong tea has been proven to aid digestion.

  • The small amount of caffeine it contains increases metabolic rate and substrate metabolism.
  • Oolong tea increases fat oxidation during digestion, which helps to manage body weight. This is because caffeine acts in synergy with EGCG also present in the tea to produce a thermogenic response and a bigger impact on fat oxidation.
  • Furthermore, the catechins in oolong tea regulate the activity of lipoproteins improves lipid metabolism which decreases body fat and reduces body weight.
  • Oolong tea – just like green and black tea – is a mild antiseptic that eliminates harmful bacteria from the gut. This provides a healthy environment for one’s microflora to flourish. Altered bacterial composition in the gut is a risk factor in the development of inflammatory diseases and infections.

Side effects of (too much) oolong tea

Oolong tea is generally safe to consume, but as with every other thing, moderation is the key. According to the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), daily consumption of up to 400mg of caffeine by adults (up to 200mg by pregnant women), is safe.

Drinking approximately 4 cups of oolong tea a day has been considered moderate consumption and safe.

Mild to severe symptoms

Excessive consumption may not be good for the health particularly because of its caffeine content. Side effects reported have varied from mild to severe and they include:

  • heartburn
  • headache
  • nausea, vomiting
  • sleep disorders
  • dizziness
  • nervousness
  • palpitation
  • diarrhea
  • convulsions
  • ringing in the ears

Tea dependency

Additionally, people may become dependent on tea as is the case with caffeine products given the fact that caffeine is very addictive.

Impaired iron absorption

The flavonoids present in tea may interfere with iron homeostasis which makes the absorption of iron more difficult.

Iron plays a crucial role in oxygen transportation and energy production among others. Iron deficiency leads to anemia which is a serious threat to human health, especially in pregnant women.

Try drinking tea between meals and not during meals. Taking ascorbic acid or eating meat when drinking oolong tea also reduces the risk of iron deficiency.

Final thoughts

Oolong tea is loaded with bioactive compounds which when consumed in moderation is very beneficial to health.

It has many health benefits that might soothe acid reflux symptoms. However, because of the caffeine and tannins, oolong tea might trigger or aggravate heartburn for some people.

If consumed in excess, oolong tea can harm the body and cause, or aggravate health problems such as acid reflux or iron deficiency.

This article has been written by:

Meggy Jones

Expert Nutritionist and Food Scientist,
M.Sc. – Nutrition, ugent, Belgium