Alcohol is not recommended for acid reflux sufferers, since it might trigger heartburn and other symptoms.
However, we all react differently to foods and drinks, therefore it is possible that you can drink certain kinds of alcoholic beverages while others cause symptoms.
Furthermore, our bodies often tolerate small amounts of alcohol. You might get away without experiencing symptoms if you drink only one glass.
How does alcohol trigger acid reflux?
Even though the effect of alcohol on heartburn and acid reflux is still debated, most doctors seem to agree that alcohol can indeed trigger heartburn.
- relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) – when this muscle is tight, it prevents stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus
- drinks with low ethanol content (beer) stimulate gastric acid secretion, however, higher concentration (5%-40%) might have no or an inhibitory effect
- carbonated drinks, like beer or champagne, increase the pressure in the stomach
- cold drinks stay longer in the stomach
- some alcohols contain a lot of sugar
- those who smoke or eat fatty foods while drinking are at higher risk
- those who mix alcohol with orange juice, soda, or energy drinks are at higher risk
What makes an alcoholic drink “good” for acid reflux?
As discussed above, alcohol is a very likely heartburn trigger. However, looks like not all alcoholic beverages are created equal.
Those beverages, that are less likely to cause reflux symptoms to have some common characteristics:
- We cannot drink too much of them. That (and many other reasons) rules out beer, but it’s true for spirits.
- They are not very acidic. According to the acidity chart on this page, vodka is the least acidic drink. Gin, rum, and whiskey might still be fine.
- They are not carbonated or we don’t mix them with carbonated drinks. That again rules out the beer (and champagne). However, people can add carbonated drinks to pretty much any kind of alcohol.
- We don’t drink them very cold. Yet another criteria beer failed. Adding too many ice cubes to spirits might be a possible cause of symptoms.
- Have high ethanol concentration. As the study mentioned above concluded: “beer and white and red wine but not whisky and cognac are potent stimulants of gastric acid secretion and release gastrin in humans”. Even though, the culprit might not be the alcohol content.
- Have low sugar content. Sugar in small amounts and without added triggers is unlikely to cause symptoms.
What is the best alcoholic drink for GERD sufferers?
People suffering from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease – more than two acid reflux episodes per week) should be really mindful of the type and amount of alcohol they consume.
Spirits, like vodka, gin, or tequila, are considered to be the so-called “best alcohol for acid reflux”, which means they are the least likely to cause heartburn for most people.
This doesn’t mean these drinks won’t trigger symptoms, they still might. Individual responses to alcohol are very different, you might want to experiment with different kinds of alcohol to see which ones don’t cause reflux symptoms.
Mixing any alcohol with ingredients that are risk factors for acid reflux – e.g. soda or orange juice – can trigger heartburn.
Best alcohol for stomach acid
Looks like beverages with high alcohol concentration don’t increase stomach acid production.
According to a study about alcohol and gastric acid secretion:
Alcoholic beverages with low ethanol content (beer and wine) are strong stimulants of gastric acid secretion and gastrin release, the effect of beer being equal to the maximal acid output. Beverages with a higher ethanol content (whisky, gin, cognac) do not stimulate gastric acid secretion or release of gastrin.(source)
However, most studies about stomach acid and alcohol acknowledge that the stimulatory mechanism behind alcohols with low ethanol content is not known, and it’s quite likely that is not related to the alcohol, but some other component.
Non-grain vodka for acid reflux
Most people seem to agree that non-grain vodka is one of the most heartburn-friendly alcoholic beverage:
- Its pH is around 6-7, which is slightly acidic or neutral.
- We cannot drink enough to make our stomachs full.
- We can drink it straight. However, mixing it with e.g. orange juice is a no-no.
- Contains no gas.
- Has high alcohol content, therefore it doesn’t stimulate gastric acid secretion.
Compared to grain vodka, non-grain vodka (made from e.g. potato) is gluten-free, sugar-free, and contains less carbs, therefore less likely to trigger gastrointestinal symptoms.
Worst alcohol for acid reflux
Beer is probably the most common alcoholic drink that causes acid reflux. Beer has all the risk factors that are possible triggers:
- it is carbonated
- we drink it cold
- contains gas
- has a low ethanol content, therefore produces more stomach acid
- people tend to drink too much, which can make the stomach full
If you are prone to acid reflux, it’s best to steer clear of beer.
Caffeine is also an acid reflux trigger. Alcohols that contain caffeine are likely to cause symptoms.
What is the best beer for acid reflux?
As mentioned above, beer is probably the worst drink for acid reflux sufferers. Those heartburn sufferers who are willing to take the risk and drink beer should consider the following:
- Light beers are usually less acidic than dark ones.
- Ales have a pH between 3 and 6, the pH of barley malt lager beers is between 4 and 5.
- Drinking too much is more likely to cause symptoms.
- Too cold beers pose more risk to acid reflux sufferers.
A glass of not too cold barley malt lager beer might be a less risky choice.
With all that said, beer is still very likely to trigger symptoms for those who are prone to acid reflux, it might take some trial and error to find a type of beer that doesn’t cause issues.
Is non-alcoholic beer bad for acid reflux?
By drinking non-alcoholic beer, you eliminate one risk factor for acid reflux: alcohol.
However, most other risk factors still apply:
- drinking too much, the stomach gets full
- non-alcoholic beers also contain gas
- drinking it too cold
The studies mentioned above, that found a positive correlation between beer consumption and gastric acid secretion all mention, that this is probably not triggered by the alcohol content. So non-alcoholic beers might also stimulate stomach acid production.
Even though we have found no studies on acid reflux and non-alcoholic beer, it’s quite likely that it is still a risk factor for acid reflux.
Other types of alcoholic drink
Looks like non-grain vodka is the least likely to cause acid reflux symptoms and beer seems to be the riskiest drink. But how about all the other alcoholic beverages?
Wine is also likely to trigger acid reflux symptoms:
- has a low ethanol content
- sweet, white wines contain a lot of sugar
- easy to drink too much
Especially white wine seems to be a trigger factor for acid reflux. Some wines might give you less acid than others.
If you love wine, you might give it a try, but only drink small amounts.
Liqueurs and heartburn
The main problem with liqueurs is sugar (besides its alcohol content, of course).
Creme de Menthe, Sambuca and Amaretto contain upwards of 15g of carbs per shot so be careful if you drink these. Kirsch, Irish Cream, and Grand Marnier may be better options if you wish to have a liqueur, although these still contain as much as 10g of carbs per shot.(source)
On top of that, some liqueurs also contain caffeine, which is another risk factor for acid reflux.
Best liquor for acid reflux
Liquors like gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, and even rum might be considered to be the “best alcohol for acid reflux”:
- They contain no sugar (unlike liqueurs).
- They all have a high alcohol content, so as mentioned in the above-linked study, they do not stimulate stomach acid production.
- It is also pretty hard (and not recommended) to drink so much of these that makes your stomach full.
- Contain no gas.
- Even when drinking them very cold, they are unlikely to interfere with digestion, because of the small amount.
Try mixing them with fruit juices that are relatively easy on the stomach: apple or pear might be a good choice. (Even though most fruit juices contain a lot of sugar.)
As mentioned above, probably non-grain vodka is the best liquor for acid reflux.
However, adding some coke, orange juice, or energy drinks to these drinks is asking for trouble.
Best gin mixers for acid reflux
Gin is also a very popular liquor. However, mixing it with ice-cold tonic is probably not the best idea for those who are prone to acid reflux.
Besides tonic, you can mix gin with many other drinks, some of which are reflux-safe:
- cranberry or strawberry juice
- apple juice
- certain types of tea
- ginger – ginger ale might cause problems, it usually doesn’t contain real ginger, but has gas
Other risk factors
If you mix the alcohol with other beverages, it is important to watch out for those as well, since some commonly used drinks might aggravate acid reflux symptoms:
- coffee and caffeine can trigger acid reflux, avoid mixing alcohol and caffeine
- sugary drinks should also be avoided, that includes most sodas and fruit juices
- steer clear of carbonated drinks
Albeit still debated, alcohol seems to be a trigger factor for acid reflux. This means there is no best alcohol for acid reflux, per se, only bad, worse, and worst choices.
The least bad alcohol for acid reflux is probably a small glass of spirit, like non-grain vodka, tequila, etc. You might also try wines with low sugar content.
Please keep in mind that all people react to foods and drinks differently, there is no definitive list of acid reflux triggers. The very same food or drink might cause severe chest pain and heartburn for some people, and make no symptoms for others.
And last but not least: many health conditions can cause chest pain after drinking alcohol, it’s not always heartburn and acid reflux!