Acid reflux, which occurs when acidic gastric contents from the stomach leak up into the esophagus, can inspire numerous lifestyle changes, not all of them happy ones. For wine lovers, finding that their favorite vintage triggers their symptoms may add heartbreak to heartburn. Fortunately, there are remedies that may help moderate wine drinkers avoid the discomfort of acid reflux, though it’s best to consult your doctor to determine what’s right for you.
How Wine Affects Acid Reflux
Wine may cause or aggravate acid reflux in more ways than one. First, the alcohol it contains may cause relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, which is the muscular valve that normally closes to prevent acidic stomach contents from entering the esophagus. Next, wine is acidic, which can exacerbate preexisting inflammation or injury to the esophageal lining and may stimulate acid secretion in the stomach. In addition, alcohol itself may also irritate the esophageal lining.
One option that may be worth a try for acid reflux caused by wine consumption is to see what happens if you choose wines that are less acidic. According to the Wine Spectator, wines from warm climates have less acidity than those from cooler ones. Grape varieties that are naturally low-acid include Viognier, Merlot, Carmenère and Gewürztraminer. White wine has been shown to stimulate acid reflux more than red or rose wine.
Over-the-counter antacids such as Tums or Rolaids are the fastest way to get short-term relief from a severe attack of wine-induced acid reflux because they neutralize acid in the esophagus and stomach on contact. Liquid antacids usually work the fastest. While fast relief can be useful on occasion, antacids are not the answer when the problem is persistent, severe GERD.
Certain medications taken before wine consumption may help prevent acid reflux and may calm symptoms once they've started. Acid blockers known as H2 inhibitors are relatively fast-acting, taking effect within 30 to 90 minutes. They are available over the counter under such generic names as famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac).
In the past, wine and other alcoholic beverages were on most doctors’ lists of things to avoid for those who suffered from acid reflux. Currently, however, clinical practice guidelines recommend letting patients determine for themselves what foods or beverages ignite their acid reflux symptoms. Moderating your wine consumption may be a remedy in itself. If acid reflux is more than an occasional problem, however, you should consult your doctor. Talking to your doctor about your intake of alcoholic beverages is also advisable. In addition to exacerbating or causing acid reflux and damaging the esophageal lining, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver and other serious health problems.