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:

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