Heartburn Comes in a Shot Glass
Why alcohol is sometimes to blame for severe bouts of heartburn and acid reflux
If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), then you know that certain foods can trigger heartburn and acid reflux. Foods that are particularly heavy and high in fat can leave you with a stinging, burning sensation in your chest for hours. However, some people will experience these unfortunate symptoms without taking a single bite.
Alcoholic beverages can severely worsen your heartburn symptoms by causing the lower esophageal sphincter to relax. The lower esophageal sphincter or LES is the valve that separates the stomach from the esophagus. This valve opens every time you take a bite to permit the food into the stomach. Once food passes through the valve, it shuts quickly to prevent any loose particles or digestive fluids from backwashing into the esophagus.
Heartburn and acid reflux are a result of a malfunctioning LES. When the LES is overworked, damaged or weakened in some way, it does not work as efficiently. The result is kind of like a lag—the valve doesn’t shut as quickly as it is supposed to, letting stomach acid rise out of the stomach and into the esophagus.
The problem is that the esophagus doesn’t have the same sort of tough lining that the stomach does. When digestive juices come into contact with it, the esophageal lining can grow irritated and inflamed. Over time this can lead to serious damage. In the short term, it will cause a number of uncomfortable symptoms.
Acid Reflux and Alcohol: The Connection
Alcohol causes the LES to slow down. After just a few drinks alcohol can leave you with the symptoms you know all too well—the burning, regurgitation and indigestion. Not everyone reacts to alcohol in this way. Some people are perfectly able to drink alcohol without being any worse for wear. Others have to avoid all sorts of other drinks, like caffeine and acidic juices, as these can cause severe acid reflux to develop as well.
The longer you struggle with acid reflux, the more clearly you’ll be able to understand what foods and beverages bother you. Alcohol is a very common heartburn trigger, so if you are trying to reduce heartburn symptoms it may benefit you to cut a few drinks out of your diet.