Is Green Tea Bad for Acid Reflux?

Close-up of a Hand Pouring Tea, Front View,
A woman pours a mug of green tea from a pot. (Image: DAJ/amana images/Getty Images)

Traditional "black" tea is typically on the list of food items to avoid if you’ve got acid reflux. Green tea is less acidic and lower in caffeine than traditional black tea, but you may still wonder if it is bad for acid reflux. Known in its chronic form as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, acid reflux occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, causing such symptoms as heartburn, scratchy throat, stomach pain and a sour taste in the mouth. Understanding how green tea might affect your symptoms could help you decide whether to keep it in your diet.

Green Tea and the Lower Esophageal Sphincter

Both traditional black and green tea are brewed from the Camellia sinensis leaf, and both contain methylxanthines, a family of stimulants that includes caffeine. Methylxanthines are the source of the “lift” people get from coffee and tea. But they also loosen a band of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, which normally keeps stomach acid from splashing up into the esophagus by forming a tight seal between the two. Green tea contains less caffeine than coffee and black tea, but it also has 2 other methylxanthines -- theobromine and theophylline. For that reason, green tea may cause the LES to loosen, allowing acid reflux to occur. The effect of green tea on acid reflux has not been extensively studied. But one study conducted in Japan, where green tea is the beverage of choice, demonstrated that drinkers of green tea were up to 1.5 times as likely to have acid reflux as those those who did not drink green tea. The study was published in the October 2011 "Digestive Diseases and Sciences."

Acidity in Bottled Green Tea

Another property of green tea and other teas made from the Camellia sinensis leaf that can be bad for acid reflux is acidity. Acidic beverages irritate the esophageal lining on contact, so they can be particularly bothersome if your esophagus is already irritated or inflamed from acid reflux. While normal brewed green tea is actually quite low in acid, green tea that comes in a bottle is another matter. Most bottled green teas are fortified with an acid preservative such as ascorbic acid, which may loosen the LES, and some are also flavored with citrus juices, making them more acidic.

Green Tea Blends

Because of its mild flavor and health benefits, green tea is often sold in blends with other herbal infusions. Mint and yerba mate are 2 herbs often combined with green tea, and they’re also 2 herbal infusions that anyone with acid reflux should approach cautiously. Although mint tea has many properties that aid digestion, mint is also high in methylxanthines, which can relax the LES, allowing stomach acids to leak through. The same goes for yerba mate, which contains caffeine as well. The effects of many herbs on acid reflux have not been studied scientifically. In any case, it's good to be mindful of how any herbal tea could be affecting your symptoms.

Matcha and Green Tea Extracts

Matcha is made from ground-up green tea leaves and is harvested differently from regular green tea. Whereas normal green tea is made by soaking the tea leaves in hot water, Matcha tea is made by dissolving the tea powder in hot water. Matcha is prized for its health benefits, but acid reflux sufferers should be aware that they are drinking a powderthat may aggravate inflamed esophageal tissue. Taken in pill form, green tea extracts contain significant amounts of caffeine, which can loosen the LES.

Conclusions

Although methylxanthines are proven to loosen the LES, thus contributing to acid reflux symptoms, green tea itself has not been widely studied in relation to acid reflux. The American College of Gastroenterology suggests that health practitioners encourage people to make their own determinations about which foods and beverages trigger their symptoms, rather than telling them specifically what to eliminate. If you find that green tea triggers acid reflux symptoms, it’s up to you to decide whether to eliminate it from your diet.

Medical advisor: Jonathan E. Aviv, M.D., FACS

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