Acid Reflux and Tea

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not an expert on the subject and am certainly not speaking as a health care provider. You should seek medical attention immediately if symptoms last more than two weeks. This is simply my opinion and personal experience.

We have all heard many wonderful claims on the health benefits of tea ranging from weight loss to cancer prevention and all points in between. I don’t have a clue if any of the claims can actually be backed up with evidence and it doesn’t really matter to me. What I do know is tea tastes good and I enjoy drinking it. I also know drinking tea can become a source of heartburn.

At one point, a few years ago, I thought I was going to have to give up drinking tea. It and dark colored colas were giving me a great deal of trouble with acid reflux. Rather than giving up, I decided to fight back. Following is my experience and what worked for me. It might work for you as well.

My wife has to avoid caffeine from all sources because it amplifies acid reflux in her system. This is apparently a concern for many people. Caffeine does not seem to affect me in this manner. It is not the source of my tea or soda drinking reflux. If caffeine is the source of your problem, the simple answer is obvious - switch to decaf. You have my sympathies.

The problem for me with dark colored sodas, Diet Coke being personally the worst offender, may be due to the acid or the dyes but I am sure it is not the caffeine. I know this because Mountain Dew has more octane than Diet Coke and yet it never gives me heartburn. I can chug it all day long and it doesn’t affect me doesn’t affect me doesn’t affect me (silliness intended). Today, dark soda will still light me up on occasion, even with limiting my use of it.

I also learned, through experience, that if I overdo black teas, for any length of time, I will suffer heartburn. The problem first began years ago with Bigelow Earl Grey. Back in the day when Bigelow came in generous 2g bags, I was drinking this tea by the pot full on a daily basis. Apparently I was enjoying this tea way too much. The problem was not with Bigelow. It was with me having no self-control.

In addition to the heartburn, I developed some urinary tract issues (sorry for sharing, but it is part of the story). Bigelow uses actual oil of bergamot in their Earl Grey. Real oil of bergamot tastes really good, but the bergamot (at least Bigelow's bergamot) forms an oily film on top of the tea. It appears drinking such large quantities also caused the oil to build up in my system.

I knew it would be best if I only occasionally drank tea with the actual oil of bergamot. The trouble being I was an Earl Grey addict. How was this junkie supposed to get his daily fix? The solution was pretty simple. I switched to Twinings Earl Grey. It is a bergamot-flavored tea. The hope was to eliminate the tea drinking related problems. It did relieve the kidney issue but did not stop the acid reflux. See, I told you it wasn’t Bigelow’s fault.

Not being willing to give up Earl Grey, I decided to switch to Twinings Earl Grey Green tea. With this simple change my reflux problems disappeared completely. I could now drink tea by the pot full once again. If your tea addiction is causing you pain, try making the green tea switch. It is of interest to note green tea is often cited as being lower in caffeine than black tea. Some scientists researched the claims and it turns out not to true. If your reflux is sensitive to caffeine changing to green tea may not help.

I was fearful that changing would be difficult, as at the time I thought I wouldn’t like green tea. What helped was to accept green tea is not black tea. They do not taste alike and they never will. I adopted an attitude of learning to appreciate the difference.

I also quickly discovered not all green teas are the same. There is a wide range of flavorful difference. Of course I got lucky that one of my first green teas was one I actually did enjoy. So when I could no longer find my Twinings Earl Grey Green I was heartbroken but determined I would find another tea. I did. I began to drink Ahmad Earl Grey Green, which I liked even better.

I bought Ahmad by the case, as it became my absolute favorite tea. Even so we all need a little variety once in a while. What I discovered was after my system recovered from the abuse I had given it, I could drink black tea once again in moderation, even Bigelow Earl Grey. I could even occasionally drink it in excess without trouble. I just no longer made a daily habit of doing so.

I always keep 6 or 7 teas I really like around as my go to teas for daily consumption. In addition there is always a stack of various teas around for occasional use and while looking for that ever elusive next favorite. I enjoy several cups a day and cannot recall the last time I had heartburn from tea. If you are contemplating giving up tea, try shaking things up a bit first. Maybe, like me, by adjusting your habits just a little, you too can conquer tea related acid reflux. Today, I am drinking a larger variety and greater quantity of tea than ever before, and all pain free!


Update!

Since first publishing this article I discovered some interesting thoughts by others that inspired me to go a little further here. As mentioned early in the article I was not going to give up tea without a fight. Green tea, as mentioned was an option. White tea is another. Made from young leaves and buds it does not contain the high levels of tannin found in other teas. As I understand it, tannin is the main source of the heartburn. White tea, to me, is a lot closer to black tea in taste than green (especially bagged white) so it could be a really good starting point.

A likely source of your reflux problem may be the way you are brewing your bagged tea. The label usually says something like steep for 2-4 minutes. How long do you leave the bag in the cup? Let’s be honest, most people leave the bag in the cup until they finish it. Right? Removing the tea bag at the proper time may solve your problem. It is highly possible this was a big part of my own recovery.

If you routinely sqeeze the bag to get every last drop of tea, you may actually be aggravating the problem. I know how hard it is not to squeeze, but by doing so you are releasing even more reflux causing oil and tannin into the cup. I understand you feel wastfull if you don't squeeze so try removing the bag and squeezing it over another cup. Once you realize how little tea is actually being held hostage by the bag you may find it easier to stop.

According to the loose-leaf crowd (which I am quickly beginning to join), the source of the problem is that you are using the bag in the first place. The problem, they say, is the tiny pieces of leaf usually found in the bag releases far more tannin into the brew than does whole leaf tea. Tannin makes tea bitter and can cause the acid in the stomach to be released into the esophagus. My personal experience and opinion is this problem is greatly reduced if you simply follow the steeping time on the bag as just mentioned. Remember, because it uses smaller pieces of leaf, bag tea does not take as long to reach full strength as does loose leaf. Of course attempting to resolve your acid reflux may just be the motivation needed to inspire you to see if the art of brewing with loose-leaf tea is for you. Good luck!

31 comments:

  1. Thank you.

    I've suffered from bad heartburn for years.
    After reading this article, I stopped squeezing the bag.
    It's several weeks later and I haven't had bad heartburn since.

    Well, I occasionally get very mild heartburn, but it's nothing compared to how bad it was before.

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    1. Thanks for confirming my experience and congatulations on being pain free at least most of the time. You might try shortening the steep time a little and see if that gives a little more relief.

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    2. This may surprise you, but I don't steep my (black)tea.
      I find it has less flavour, and a more bitter aftertaste if I do.
      I prefer to agitate the water (through pouring, stiring and dunking) around the bag (which I guess increases the diffusion-rate from the surface of the leaf-dust, but doesn't give it time to absorb the water and leach out the bitterness).
      Try it, I'd like to hear if a tea expert tastes the same difference as I do.

      Back to tea related heartburn, I've also found that it doesn't actually occur while drinking tea, but usually a few hours after, and often effects me the next day as well, which may be why it was so difficult to link the two (though I am certain now it was tea, as I have been experimenting with different strength).
      Did you experience this delayed reaction as well?

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    3. An interesting brewing method. Sounds somewhat like how I used to brew through a Mr Coffee. Have you ever tried cold brewing your black tea? I hadn't made the connection until just now. No bitterness and I am guessing no heartburn.

      My stomach problems with tea were time delayed though usually the same day. Diet Coke was different it would hit me while I was drinking it.

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  2. I have had acid reflux ever since college. I used to take medication for it, but it became too expensive. The doctor told me I could manage it myself by changing some habits. For example, the worst thing he said I could do was drink a giant glass of water right before bed. It's guaranteed to give you immediate and horribly painful acid reflux (I've tested it; he was right).

    In addition, he told me to stay away from chocolate and mint near bedtime. I have never noticed a correlation with tea and acid reflux before, but I'm wondering if maybe you drank it right before lying down? That would definitely not help things.

    Also as a side note, cold brewing releases significantly less caffeine into the cup than hot brewing. If you're sensitive to caffeine, cold brewing could do the trick!

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    1. Mine was caused by drinking massive quantities of oversteeped Bigelow Earl Grey. I had not heard about the water, mint, or chocolate stuff. Strange stuff.

      As for cold brewing, it doesn't release the astringent tannins like heated water. As for the caffeine, I have not been able find a reputable source study on this. Have you found a source? Mentally I can see it both ways.

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    2. I also have never had problems with water before bed.

      Also, if the heartburn is immediate, that means the excess stomach acid is already there, and the water is just moving it about.
      I don't drink tea in the evening, so effects have mostly subside by then.

      Re: Mint
      I have read that certain foods and intoxicants will relax the opening of the stomach, allowing the acid to move back up, eg. mint chocolate, alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs.

      But if you don't have excess stomach acid to begin with (which you shouldn't), that wont be a problem.

      Excess stomach acid can be caused by fatty foods and large portions, (which are more difficult to digest, so the stomach produces more acid).
      Too much tannin (e.g. in tea) can also be a problem, and I've heard acidic food can be bad too.

      So you may want to try eating less fatty and spicy food, and try smaller portions.
      Also, try eliminating these tannin containing foods from your diet
      http://www.widomaker.com/~jnavia/tannins/tannlist.htm

      Re: cold tea
      yuck!

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    3. Excellent advice... well except the part about cold tea being yuck! ;)

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  3. Thanks for all the great info. I've suffered with painful acid reflux symptoms for years. I will try these suggestions next time I have some tea.

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  4. Hi there! Thanks for your article. I'm actually suffering from acid reflux because I have hiatal hernia. But just like you I love tea! I would like to provide another tip. When using bag tea I never leave it in the cup as long as needed. I always take it out after 1-2 minutes. Yes, the tea is lighter this way but it is still tasty.
    I didn't know about the squeezing detail though.... Quilty! I do it too.... :) but after reading this I think it's better to waste some drops of tea.

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    1. I never thought to mention using less than recommended time - weird thing is I almost always do just that especially with black teas. Good catch!

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  5. I think my issues happen with too strong tea of almost any sort. I have a thermal cup that will hold about 16 oz, so when two tea bags are in there, it tastes about right..and the tea stays hot quite a long time. It probably all comes down to hurrying; I have time to heat the water and plop bags into the mug but don't always make the time to steep and remove the bags before hitting the road. My church had a turkey meal with all the trimmings, and while I did not pig out (in fact, I wait 'til the line is almost non-existent), that type of meal plus strong tea had me down for the count in the afternoon. My daughter avoids Tazo chai completely, but I do think my issues have come from brewing to long, and sometimes chugging it before a real meal. Tea as meal replacement or postponement never works well. In my leisurely home breakfast routine, I have a glass of water waiting to plop the tea bag into vs. squeezing it. If I do that twice or so in a day, it's like a 'free' cup of tea to ice. My grandmother used to save the tea bag and use it the next day for the weakest tea EVER; that's what living through the Depression will do for people.

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    1. I like your breakfast routine! Another point I don't recall mentioning here is that I avoid black tea on an empty stomach - especially strong assam or ceylon teas. It is a good excuse to grab a cookie!

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  6. I would make sure to avoid certain teas such as spearmint and peppermint. Some can activate acid secretion.

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    1. :-O !! Thank you. I'm sitting here (in the afternoon) with a bubbling stomach full of acid...how did I start my day? big cup of peppermint tea.... oh the humanity.

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  7. This is really great info. I suffered from acid reflux for many years and this is the type of advice that really helped me to overcome my problem. So, to all you sufferers, YES! There is hope! Just don't lose faith and know that your body can heal itself. I was lucky to find some great advice that helped me overcome my acid reflux and get better.

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  8. Really nice post describing about the treatment of Acid reflux with Tea. However I like such kinds of natural home basic treatments. As by this not only we get control over the disease but also there are no risk on our health.

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  9. In the last 2 days I've just begun drinking Jasmine tea because I've been having a problem with heartburn after drinking Tetley. I've been drinking Tetley since I was about 15 years old (and I'm 50 now) so I can only imagine what the inside of my esophagus looks like! I can't drink Earl Grey because of the bergamot content which I think I might be allergic to, as every time I've had it in the past I've always developed a minor headache. Jasmine does not do that to me. So, here I begin my new journey with Jasmine, hoping that in the next few weeks I'll be able to see if it helps. Wish me luck.

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    1. Definitely good luck Dan41! I hope you have found a great jasmine. My favorite of all time is Teavivre Premium Jasmine Dragon Pearls Green Tea. So very good, and can be resteeped.

      Maybe, you will be able to enjoy an occasional Tetley indulgence after your body recovers.

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  10. I am reading this after having a big cup of Twinings English Breakfast which is black tea. I thought I was going to die xD
    I'm cutting back on all teas and see if that helps. Then I will try with white tea and other blends until I recognize which are safe for me.

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    1. Best of luck to you. I find English Breakfast is often some of the most brutal for us sensitive drinkers. I try to never drink it on an empty stomach. That's not just an excuse to eat cookies.

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  11. I love my India tea but that gives me day-long, night-long reflux. I cant stop it...this is one thing I just love...I just love....I'm glad I found people like me here.....

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    1. I fully understand Viky The Great. The things we do for love. If stopping is not an option, you might try another brand or have your tea with a snack.

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  12. Wow. I stopped taking Prevacid (after what, 15 years? or more) one week ago. Just decided it was time to try something else. Along with Prevacid, I stopped drinking soda, and and my beloved Lipton TEA. After reading this blog, I made a cup of hot tea but did not 'steep'. I poured hot water over the bag and dunked it a couple of times and removed it. I'll have to say after one week of no Prevacid (no tea or soda) I'm not doing too bad. I've been without the Prevacid for 2 days on other occasions and was miserable (but I still had my tea and soda). I've given up soda before but still had the reflux. This time I googled tea and acid reflux and came to this blog. I had already given up tea for the week and I've been better than I've even been when off of proton pump inhibitors (Prevacid). I will see how this non steeping and cold steeping works. I love my tea.... but I will also try some of the the other teas mentioned. Thanks for the information.

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  13. On the proton pump inhibitors, I recently read long term use may cause something in some cells to change (google if you want more info on that) that possibly can increase the chance of heart attack by 25% I think. That's if that is true. So that is my real motivation for getting off the long-term Prevacid (Lansoproazole). People are only supposed to take proton pump inhibitors for a short period of time but people with severe acid reflux (me) find that impossible. But I'm gonna do it this time with diet change and making my tea differently. I must say I drank an excessive amount of black tea and I usually made it very strong so that it was bitter by the time I drank it. I'm looking forward to the changes I'm making (as stated in the above post) making a difference. I feel going off the tea has made a difference already, so I think If I adhere to new ways of making it and also switching to different teas, plus no SODA, I just might be able to get away with not taking proton pump inhibitors.

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  14. Thank you for taking some time to write this post. Here is another website with heartburn help. Read more about heartburn remedy here to learn more.

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  16. on your recommendations... will try 2-3min steeps (long if loose leaf) of earl green ex. Twinings Earl Grey Green and Ahmad Earl Grey Green

    and i just read in another blog from a ED recoverer i.e. anorexia etc. that we can heal our esophagus by drinking pure aloe vera gel everyday (i'll be googling it next).

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  17. I wanted to throw something in that I recently learned from a number of Starbucks employee friends....Many people think that by switching to decaf you are eliminating the problem of reflux. Big mistake. I learned the hard way. I am sensitive to caffeine because of a minor heart arrhythmia so I switched to all decaf...decaf tea, coffee, and soda. After a few years, I started having bouts of sever reflux that made me think I was going into anaphylactic shock because my throat would tighten up and I could hardly swallow. Turns out, it was acid reflux!! So here's the kicker-though this does remove much of the caffeine, it does not remove the acid. In fact, the whole process of removing the caffeine changes the flavor of the beans so there are only a few beans that are suitable for the decaf process and those beans are among the most acidic beans of all. Substituting decaf for caffeinated when you have acid reflux is not necessarily a good option. Now I'm 100% free of coffee and tea. I miss my coffee and my tea but I do not miss the GERD. Steamed coconut milk has become my new go-to.

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  18. Thanks for the tips! This is very useful!
    I am gonna go down to Holland & Barrett this afternoon, and load up with some caffeine-free herbal tea. I am into fruit tea at the moment, but yes, I get heart burns nearly every day...
    Steamed coconut milk sounds interesting, I should look into that too!

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