Does Low-Acid Coffee Cause Less Acid Reflux?

Does Low-Acid Coffee Cause Less Acid Reflux?
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What is low-acid coffee, and does it help those who suffer from acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Dark roast coffee is more effective than light roast coffee in reducing body weight…” But what about the effect of different roasts on heartburn and stomach upset?

We know that “Coffee consumption is sometimes associated with symptoms of stomach discomfort.” And so, researchers stuck pH probes down into people’s stomachs to measure the amount of stomach acid generated by different types of coffee. The way you chart stomach acid secretion in the stomach is called a “gastrogram.” You basically give people some baking soda, which starts out alkaline, and measure the pH in the stomach to see how long it takes the body to restore the stomach back down into an acid bath: about 15, 20 minutes. But if you mix that same amount of baking soda with dark roast coffee, it takes longer, meaning the dark roast coffee is suppressing stomach acid secretion, since it takes longer to normalize the pH.

Give people more of a medium roast coffee, though, and we see a dramatically different effect— an acceleration of stomach acid secretion, returning the stomach to acidic conditions three times faster than drinking dark roast coffee. Hence the title: “A dark…roast coffee… is less effective at stimulating [stomach] acid secretion…compared to a medium roast [coffee].” But, you don’t know if that translates into symptoms—clinical effects—until you put it to the test.

“The most commonly used coffee bean roasting process is referred to as convection or ‘flash’ roasting,” which just takes a few minutes. “An alternative method is conduction roasting,” which roasts at a lower temperature for a longer time—hours—and this results in so-called low-acid coffee. And, supposedly, there are anecdotes from coffee-sensitive individuals suggesting that this low-acid coffee “does not precipitate or aggravate heartburn.” When you look up that citation, though, they just cite data from the Puroast Coffee company, makers of low-acid coffee. It should therefore come to no surprise that it was the same company that funded the study.

If you go to their website, they claim that “The health benefits associated with drinking Puroast Low Acid coffee will become almost immediately obvious to those who suffer from acid reflux, heartburn, or indigestion,” with over 90 percent of customers surveyed receiving symptom relief. And so, they decided to put their money where their mouth was. But before I get to the results, it’s important to realize that when they say low-acid, they’re not talking about stomach acid; they’re talking about roasting so long that they destroy more of the chlorogenic acid within the coffee bean. You know the antioxidant, polyphenol, phytonutrient chlorogenic acid? You know the “anti-diabetic, anti-[cancer], anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity” antioxidant?

That’s like an orange juice company going out of their way to destroy the vitamin C, and then branding their OJ as “low-acid.” And, that would be technically true—vitamin C is ascorbic acid—but they’d be bragging about destroying some of the nutrition, and that’s exactly what low-acid coffee makers are doing. But hey, if it causes less stomach discomfort, maybe it’s worth it?

“Thirty coffee-sensitive individuals completed [a] randomized, double-blind, crossover study in which the symptoms of heartburn, regurgitation and [stomach upset] were assessed following [the] consumption [of the Puroast brand low-acid coffee versus conventionally roasted regular Starbucks coffee].” And, to the funder’s chagrin, no benefit whatsoever was found with the low-acid coffee. “Consumption of both coffees resulted in heartburn, regurgitation, and [stomach upset] in most individuals.” So much for that ridiculous 90 percent-of-customers claim. “No significant differences in the frequency or severity of heartburn, regurgitation, or dyspepsia were demonstrated between the two coffees, either in the fasting state or after the test meal.” They couldn’t find any way to make the low-acid coffee look better.

So, they had this initial thought that a difference in coffee acidity may explain the company’s claims. However, when put to the test in a randomized, controlled study, they found “no difference” in symptoms, suggesting the whole coffee acidity thing doesn’t explain the sensitivity some people have. And, I think, further acts as a reminder that we should never believe claims made by anyone trying to sell us something.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Vladimir Proskurovskiy via unsplash. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“Dark roast coffee is more effective than light roast coffee in reducing body weight…” But what about the effect of different roasts on heartburn and stomach upset?

We know that “Coffee consumption is sometimes associated with symptoms of stomach discomfort.” And so, researchers stuck pH probes down into people’s stomachs to measure the amount of stomach acid generated by different types of coffee. The way you chart stomach acid secretion in the stomach is called a “gastrogram.” You basically give people some baking soda, which starts out alkaline, and measure the pH in the stomach to see how long it takes the body to restore the stomach back down into an acid bath: about 15, 20 minutes. But if you mix that same amount of baking soda with dark roast coffee, it takes longer, meaning the dark roast coffee is suppressing stomach acid secretion, since it takes longer to normalize the pH.

Give people more of a medium roast coffee, though, and we see a dramatically different effect— an acceleration of stomach acid secretion, returning the stomach to acidic conditions three times faster than drinking dark roast coffee. Hence the title: “A dark…roast coffee… is less effective at stimulating [stomach] acid secretion…compared to a medium roast [coffee].” But, you don’t know if that translates into symptoms—clinical effects—until you put it to the test.

“The most commonly used coffee bean roasting process is referred to as convection or ‘flash’ roasting,” which just takes a few minutes. “An alternative method is conduction roasting,” which roasts at a lower temperature for a longer time—hours—and this results in so-called low-acid coffee. And, supposedly, there are anecdotes from coffee-sensitive individuals suggesting that this low-acid coffee “does not precipitate or aggravate heartburn.” When you look up that citation, though, they just cite data from the Puroast Coffee company, makers of low-acid coffee. It should therefore come to no surprise that it was the same company that funded the study.

If you go to their website, they claim that “The health benefits associated with drinking Puroast Low Acid coffee will become almost immediately obvious to those who suffer from acid reflux, heartburn, or indigestion,” with over 90 percent of customers surveyed receiving symptom relief. And so, they decided to put their money where their mouth was. But before I get to the results, it’s important to realize that when they say low-acid, they’re not talking about stomach acid; they’re talking about roasting so long that they destroy more of the chlorogenic acid within the coffee bean. You know the antioxidant, polyphenol, phytonutrient chlorogenic acid? You know the “anti-diabetic, anti-[cancer], anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity” antioxidant?

That’s like an orange juice company going out of their way to destroy the vitamin C, and then branding their OJ as “low-acid.” And, that would be technically true—vitamin C is ascorbic acid—but they’d be bragging about destroying some of the nutrition, and that’s exactly what low-acid coffee makers are doing. But hey, if it causes less stomach discomfort, maybe it’s worth it?

“Thirty coffee-sensitive individuals completed [a] randomized, double-blind, crossover study in which the symptoms of heartburn, regurgitation and [stomach upset] were assessed following [the] consumption [of the Puroast brand low-acid coffee versus conventionally roasted regular Starbucks coffee].” And, to the funder’s chagrin, no benefit whatsoever was found with the low-acid coffee. “Consumption of both coffees resulted in heartburn, regurgitation, and [stomach upset] in most individuals.” So much for that ridiculous 90 percent-of-customers claim. “No significant differences in the frequency or severity of heartburn, regurgitation, or dyspepsia were demonstrated between the two coffees, either in the fasting state or after the test meal.” They couldn’t find any way to make the low-acid coffee look better.

So, they had this initial thought that a difference in coffee acidity may explain the company’s claims. However, when put to the test in a randomized, controlled study, they found “no difference” in symptoms, suggesting the whole coffee acidity thing doesn’t explain the sensitivity some people have. And, I think, further acts as a reminder that we should never believe claims made by anyone trying to sell us something.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Vladimir Proskurovskiy via unsplash. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Doctor's Note

Isn’t that amazing!? I love how it was their own study that did them in, but hey—good for them for allowing it to be published and not just quietly buried. Or maybe they tried, and the researchers held strong? Either way, this is how science is supposed to work, and I’m excited to bring it to you!

If you missed the previous video where I talk about that weight loss finding, check out Which Coffee Is Healthier: Light vs. Dark Roast?

What can we do for an upset stomach? See these vids:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

44 responses to “Does Low-Acid Coffee Cause Less Acid Reflux?

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  1. Interesting video … I learned something new today. I have never been sensitive to coffee causing me heartburn, so I never paid any attention to the subject matter of this video and never knew there was a company producing a special coffee to alleviate stomach irritation symptoms from coffee. But I have noticed that there are now a proliferation of companies who are desperately trying to be unique and set themselves apart from the crowd of competitors in almost every field in order to sell their unique product. Same with pharmaceuticals … it seems as though many drug companies dream up new diseases just to sell a new drug to cure it! What ever happened to the “simple” life from to good ole days :-)

    1. What I notice around me as an ageing individual is that as people get older many commonly develop GERD and start having problems with coffee and oily/spicy foods.

    2. I recall looking at internet marketing courses many years ago. They all emphasised the importance of having a USP to achieve sales success – Unique Selling Point It looks like it is still a part of many marketing strategies.

  2. I almost ordered coffee from that company years ago because the handout from the ENT listed coffee on the avoid list for GERD sufferers. However, after some trial and error, I found it was oil, dairy products, fatty foods in general that caused issues. If anything, coffee helped me with gut motility.

    1. Barb, you made an interesting point. I, too, in the past have blamed cheese, or alcohol, for heartburn — so, I cut out cheese and most alcohol. A good step, really. But, like you, I discovered that it was fats that caused the heartburn: a high oil vegan restaurant meal can cause the same symptoms. And the more I cut back on oil at home, the worse such meals make me feel.

      A low oil, low salt restaurant meal is apparently an oxymoron. I once took a vegan cooking class at Sur La Table, and the chef’s recipes were loaded with both; when I asked him about that, he said that’s the way he and all chefs he knew cooked. Well, Sur La Table weren’t offering a “healthy” vegan cooking class — that was honest, at least. But the term “vegan” suffers unduly from a halo effect: people think it must be healthy if it’s “vegan.” It’s quite some effort to persuade them otherwise. Sodas, chips, pretzels, cookies, cakes, pizzas, etc — all can be vegan, and quite unhealthy. Especially if commercially prepared.

      1. Dr J, eating out for us is a nightmare. We just don’t do it anymore. Even higher end vegan restaurants will pour the olive oil all over the hummus, and throw coconut oil into every recipe they can. Grosse! I don’t feel a need to eat during a day of shopping or errands, but I do try to keep something prepared in the refridgerator for when we get home.

        I didn’t eat much oil or dairy when I did consume them Dr J. … very little, but the difference was night and day when I gave it up!

        1. Nobody believes me and just thinks I’m pushing an agenda, but since I’ve been WFPB and add no oil, the fat that used to taste good is now disgusting! It’s all I taste and feel on the tongue when it’s added, and even the old vice potato chips taste like old grease. Betcha can’t eat just one? Betcha I could!

          1. Agree Tater. It’s just an addiction. Westerners are addicted to refined sugar and fat. So what are the restaurants going to serve? We eat no sugar, no added oil and very little high fat foods like nuts. We go out to eat once a year to an Indian restaurant. Always feel a little uncomfortable after eating their high fat food. I don’t limit salt at all and their food always tastes pretty salty too. Can’t even tolerate refined grains any more. Can’t eat my once beloved sour dough pretzels any more. They taste like paste now.

      2. There is a HUGE difference between food cooked at home vs most all restaurant food. The latter is most always cooked for flavor appeal only and often tries to do that with the least expensive ingredients available. Nutrition still seems a foreign word to the restaurant industry, even to the so-called ‘healthy’ places. The most ‘vegan’ restaurants I have eaten at were a good place to get not only fatter from excessive calories, salt, and fat, but a good case of heartburn if you have even a minor case of GERD. Far too many nut oils in my opinion. How some of these places survive is beyond me. One I know in San Francisco, most people I know call Cafe Flatulence.

  3. It would be interesting to see a study done on coffee brewing methods that claim to lower acids. There is cold brewing, the home use of an Aeropress (google it), or you can go to certain (insert giant conglomo coffee chain name that starts with an S) that have Clover Brewed Coffee. All seem to lower the ‘bite’ and allow the flavor nuances of the coffee beans to shine through, even of roasts and grinds one may have disliked brewed auto-drip or french-press.

    1. Exactly Jimbo. Cold brew is suppose to be low acid? So is that true? Next is it safe to drink it that way or what precautions should we take. But cold brew does seem to elimnate acidic problems for me even, if I heat it before I drink it.

      1. I just had a cold brew yesterday that flared my GERD back up. I’ve been battling GERD for 2 months now, this is new to me and it sucks. I thought i was out of the woods, but a few too many beers this weekend and a cold brew has me back on Prilosec again.

        Last week, before the flair up, I was doing almond milk lattes to cut the acid content with extra milk. That seemed to work better than cold brew. I always drink it on a full stomach as well.

        I’m sad that i have GERD (35 yo) while on a WFPB diet (with oils!) Maybe i’ll try cutting my oils next.

        1. Oh, yes, LeroyBBlazin, cut the oils!! I’m a gradualist, so I take it a step at a time. You can sauté veggies for soups or stews without oil, make salad dressings without oil, even make waffles without oil. I haven’t yet been able to oven-roast veggies without oil, but I’ve cut back. (When I use broth, they just get dried out; I think I need help here.) And I still like a drizzle of toasted sesame oil on steamed broccoli (but not on other steamed veggies), etc. I’m very impressed with anyone who cuts it back to zero!

          1. Thank you. I’m going to look into my oil consumption. I do make a LOT of roasted veggies, and yes, i drizzle the oil on that. Fried eggs w/ butter. Peanutbutter (peanut oil!). Oy. I think you’ve helped me put my finger on it! =^]

        2. beware, LBB: https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/news/20110921/some-acid-reflux-drugs-linked-to-c-diff
          Study Shows Proton Pump Inhibitors Are Associated With Higher Risk of C. diff
          ——
          https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/809247
          ‘In an accompanying invited commentary, Kent A. Sepkowitz, MD, from the Infectious Disease Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, writes, “[M]ost disturbingly, [PPI] is available over the counter, propped up by substantial direct-to-consumer advertising muscle…. [I]t is out there for anyone with a dollar and a stomach ache.”
          He concludes, “PPI use is surely associated with the development of C difficile-associated diarrhea, and less PPI use should lead to less disease.”‘
          ——
          http://vitalitycapsules.com/hospital-acquired-infections-not-just-antibiotics
          Hospital Acquired Infections – Not Just antibiotics
          Dr Daniels reveals the non – antibiotic drugs
          that make
          these infections flourish and other factors that affect your risk. tune in. Think Happens.

    2. Jimbo, I just read on site that an AeroPress with a coarser grind extracts “lower amounts of that nasty stuff, Chlorogenic acid( this adds to the total perceived bitterness of your cup).” (could be true:https://medium.com/@mmdsl28/understanding-flavour-in-the-aeropress-86677fba6c10). But the video above states that low acid coffees are roasted at lower temperatures so long “that they destroy more of the chlorogenic acid within the coffee bean. You know the antioxidant, polyphenol, phytonutrient chlorogenic acid? You know the “anti-diabetic, anti-[cancer], anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity” antioxidant?”

      It sounds as though the grind size, water temperature, and brew time all affect the extraction of chlorogenic acids. And probably most of the other compounds as well. Though that’s what I like about my AeroPress: I can control all three. My electric kettle with temperature I can control helps.

  4. Hello Jimbo, and thank you for your comments,

    I’m responding partly to your above comment about the role of aging in developing acid reflux, and partly to your last comment about restaurant food. I am a family doctor with a private practice in lifestyle medicine and also a volunteer for this website.

    First my own anecdotal experience with reflux. I suffered only rarely from reflux until I was about 50 years old. Then, it gradually increased in frequency until age 60, when it occurred about 5 nights per week. Then I switched to a WFPBD — mainly because of high cholesterol, and had the wonderful “side-benefit” of my reflux disappearing (and cholesterol also went way down). When I was eating a diet with meat, eggs, and cheese, I had a much harder time tolerating coffee. Now I have no problem with coffee.

    But anecdotal evidence is just that. Until today I had never carefully investigated the relation between aging and reflux. The very first hit on a Google search about aging and GERD was this New England J. of Med article: https://www.jwatch.org/jg200801250000003/2008/01/25/gerd-and-aging

    Here is part of the study’s conclusion: “Older age was associated independently with increasing acid exposure (P<0.0001), decreases in intra-abdominal LES (lower esophageal sphincter) length (P<0.001), increases in esophageal dysmotility, and increasingly ineffective peristalsis (P<0.001)." I found another article documenting that the LES relaxes as you age. It also relaxes as you gain weight, which often goes hand-in-hand with aging.

    Dr. Greger has a good video about explaining the reasons why high meat, high fat diets cause GERD: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/diet-and-gerd-acid-reflux-heartburn/. Here is another good one where he explains the term "dietary acid load" which is much higher with eating animal vs. plant foods: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/protein-source-an-acid-test-for-kidney-function/

    You are correct, though, in your second comment, that just eating "vegan" does not mean you are necessarily consuming low-fat foods. Restaurants, as you point out, can be particularly bad. The reason is that, unfortunately, most people, even vegans, have a craving for salty, fatty foods.

    Dr.Jon
    PhysicianAssistedWellness.com
    Health Support Volunteer for NutritionFacts.org.

    1. I’m 35 yo, eat a WFPB diet, exercise daily, athletic body type. But I have been suffering GERD the past 2 months… Based on everything i read, my normal diet consists of what someone should eat to avoid GERD.

      The only thing i can connect my GERD to is IPAs (i liked to have an IPA before my dinner) and coffee all day every day. So I’m trying very hard to reduce both. Seems to be helping but i am not out of the woods yet (still on Prilosec).

      1. I struggled with acid reflux about 25 years ago. It started after a virus, and they said that was common. It lasted for a Summer or so.

        It went away long before I gave up cheese and milk and oil.

        I don’t know if viruses or bacteria could be part of it or not.

        I just know that it came and I bought a bed wedge and it went away eventually and I never got it back and that was decades before I stopped eating dairy or oil.

  5. Perhaps the 90% figure for acid relief was a placebo effect. If so, perhaps it is still a valid improvement, as long as no long term health problems are caused. As for the longer roasting destroying the nutrients, I hope no one is drinking coffee for its health benefits. If you are wanting a beverage for health reasons, Dr Gregor has some smoothies that are a much better choice than coffee.

  6. I enjoyed this video. It’s entertaining to see Dr. Greger debunk dubious product and treatment claims. I got an extra kick in this case because the low acid coffee company mentioned is in the city where I live. I have GERD symptoms, but they are less frequent after giving up dairy (cream in my coffee) and consuming much less fat and oil.

  7. I gave up caffeine for an unrelated reason and was amazed at the difference it made to my stomach issues. All those years I had put down various IBS/Gerd attacks to other things and was sure it was not coffee/tea.

    But it was. Much as I miss coffee, I will never go back to it now, or tea. It just makes we wonder what the stuff is really doing to people’s insides.

    1. LOL!

      Trying to make a joke from the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but my nose is running, so I am off the bus tonight.

      Might be allergies. I haven’t had a cold or the flu in yeaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrs.

      I will post a quote instead.

      “He just goes off on the monologue, by himself if necessary, although anyone is welcome aboard. He will answer all questions, although not exactly in that order, because we can’t stop here, next rest area 40 miles, you understand, spinning off memories, metaphors, literary, Oriental, hip allusions, all punctuated by the unlikely expression, ‘you understand -”

  8. I don’t drink coffee but I do take apple cider vinegar because it seems that my stomach acid is too low – I get excessive gas when I omit the ACV. When I found about this solution to low stomach acid I also saw that acid reflux is not due to high stomach acid but to low acid according to Dr. Eric Berg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEfN-PoNoRQ

    1. Ron,

      I think either can do it.

      Eat a highly acidic diet and you get it, but you also get it when your stomach acid is too low.

      I say it because I had it when I was young and eating and drinking such a highly acidic diet. I would have 2 liters of soda per day back then.

      I can’t even remember the last time I had it.

    2. Berg is a chiropractor who has an online store. And as far as I know GERD has nothing to do with either low or high stomach acid levels,
      https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/symptoms-causes

      No doubt though he has a tablet or a formula he can sell us to solve this ‘problem’. Personally, I wouldn’t accept anything he says without rigorous double-checking. But why bother in the first place? There are much more credible sources of information available to us online than some guy selling stuff on YouTube

  9. I like drinking Life Extension Foundation’s coffee. I suffer from GERD and find that this coffee is less irritating. LEF claims the proprietary roasting process in this coffee preserves the chlorogenic acid and the polyphenols which don’t upset the stomach.

    1. Yes I think this is the Caffe Sanora coffee repackaged under the LEF brand. However the LEF product is significantly cheaper than the ‘official’ Caffe Sanora product

  10. So just before I went WFPB/vegan (4 years ago) I started getting horrendous acid reflux. It was bad. I was eating lots of deep fried food, lots of high fat meat/seafood and so on (and drinking quite a bit of wine). It cleared up within about 2 months of going vegan. I drink double espresso every morning on empty stomach and have had a not a single issue with reflux after cutting out all the rubbish I was eating. I adore my coffee. More coffee vids please.

  11. To reduce the acid content of coffee – simply add 1/8 teaspoon of potassium bicarbonate (KH2CO3) (alternatively the more common sodium bicarbonate works jut as well (NaH2CO3) – but sodium bicarbonate isn’t good for salt restricted diets. Agree that fat is mostly to blame for indigestion, but still, if the acid in coffee bothers you, this works quite well. Also diminishes the erosion of tooth enamel. Potassium bicarbonate is available cheaply, on line (amazon, ebay, etc.), often from businesses that sell to the home wine making crowd, as a bag of powder (lb, kg).

  12. After having three endoscopies and on the third one suffered from shock for a while due to a bleed from the biopsy I cannot believe they get volunteers for this just to test coffee, must be braver than me!

    1. I had all but given up coffee (not happily) until I found cold brew. I use a Toddy to make the cold brew concentrate, then cut that when I drink it with four or five parts hot water. I tried Aero press in the same way (grounds pressed with hot water to make concentrate, then cut with more hot water when drinking), but that still bothers me.

      Cold brews that I purchased I have not had much luck with – they still bother me.

      So I’m sold on “make your own cold brew” using a dark roast.

  13. It’s amazing how Dr. Greger’s work made me start looking at many research findings with a grain of salt.
    I’ve never thought before about how who funds the study may reflect at authenticity of its results.

    Dmitriy P,
    Shilajit Secret

  14. Barb: Thanks for the information. The Gatorade organization certainly does not have a high regard for the health of those who purchase their products.

  15. I switched to cold-brew coffee years ago, because it is much less acidic, and I love how that affects the flavor. However, I don’t know if it retains the antioxidant benefits mentioned in this video? If it did, this might be news worth sharing.

    1. They certainly are terrible for the environment. A normal cup of coffee requires: coffee, water, and optionally a filter. A keriug requires a complex machine, a plastic container with 1)foil 2) plastic 3) ink and finally 4) coffee… Apparently theyve had a terrible effect on people’s brains accepting garbage over simplicity.

      [no im not trolling, i just disagree with keriugs very much]

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