Alcohol Effects on Acid Reflux

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Guide
  • When the weather gets nicer, there seems to be more opportunities for socializing at picnics, parties, and ball games. If you are living with acid reflux, the increased opportunities for getting together with your friends and family may seem to be both a blessing and a curse, especially if drinking alcohol is a focus of the event. My goal for this week's SharePost is to help you understand how drinking alcohol may adversely affect your acid reflux, and to suggest some ways that you can still have your "cake" and eat it too!

    Just as background information, in 1987, a few scientists gathered together 17 healthy subjects, fed them dinner, then three hours later, gave them four ounces of Scotch Whiskey and sent them to bed. That night, almost half of the participants had nighttime acid reflux. What is most interesting, is that none of these same subjects had reflux on the control night (the night they went to bed without any alcohol).

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    Drinking alcohol may increase reflux in several ways - for one, it may relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) which would make it easier for two way action in the esophagus. Alcohol also contains grains which many people with sensitive stomachs and food allergies can't tolerate. There are also debates surrounding the use of alcohol and reflux medication, and what the interaction of the two may be. Drinking alcohol may also coincide with an atmosphere where lots of spicy and greasy foods such as nachos, hot dogs and french fries are consumed.

    If you have acid reflux, maybe the best thing you can do when planning your summer outings is to try to avoid a potential "perfect storm" of stomach upset by trying the following: 

    Be conscious of the fact that alcohol consumption has been shown to make acid reflux worse. If you are planning on drinking, do so in moderation (my secret is to always order two drinks, one with alcohol and one without, that way I drink the alcohol about half as fast as I would otherwise).

    The same idea could work with party food. Be aware that typical party foods may make things worse, so fill your plate with some fun food, and some food that you know does not make things worse.

    For many with acid reflux, the consequences of eating and drinking the wrong things are not short-lived. Sometimes, when individuals with reflux get off track, it can be three or four days until they feel well again. So, if you are feeling pressure from friends and family to join in full speed ahead, don't hesitate to speak up, and tell them (like a designated driver), "No thanks, but I will have a seltzer water with lemon and a turkey club sandwich!"

Published On: April 23, 2008