What to Drink (and Avoid) If You Have Acid Reflux: 6 Ideas

Struggling with acid reflux? Find out what to drink (and avoid) for relief in this article.

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by
Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN
— Signos
Health & Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
July 19, 2024
July 17, 2023
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Table of Contents

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid moves into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. It's one of the most common digestive health conditions and can be triggered by external factors like certain foods, alcohol, smoking, and stress. 

Reflux can be mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. Symptoms that may show up along with reflux include heartburn, coughing, voice changes, sore throat, and nausea. It's possible to have occasional reflux without significant health issues, but it could indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if it happens more often. Long-term damage from acid can even increase your risk of esophageal cancer. 1 

Finding the right combination of lifestyle changes to find relief can take time and experimentation, but your diet, including beverage choices, makes a big difference for any gastrointestinal health condition. In this article, you'll learn what to drink for acid reflux, tips on how to manage it, and when it's time to see a doctor.

What are the Causes and Triggers of Acid Reflux?

People often assume that acid reflux is caused by an overproduction of acid in the stomach, but people with GERD often have as much or even less acid in the stomach as those without it. Acid reflux can occur with extra intraabdominal pressure or if the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is weak, relaxed, or malfunctioning. 1 

Usually, the LES opens to allow food and liquids to pass into the stomach but then quickly closes. But when the sphincter does not close correctly, the acid that should stay in the stomach spill backward into your esophagus. It also may be related to slow gastric emptying, which means that food isn't moving down your digestive tract as quickly as it should.

Multiple factors can contribute to acid reflux. A cause usually means the problem is linked to a health condition, while triggers are lifestyle habits or foods that worsen reflux. 

Causes may include: 1

  • Pregnancy
  • Central obesity
  • Food sensitivities
  • Medication use 
  • Digestive health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Hiatal hernia

Common triggers for acid reflux may include:

  • Food
  • Beverages
  • Stress
  • Smoking 
  • Overeating

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What to Drink for Acid Reflux

When considering what to drink for acid reflux, the first thing to note is that what works for one person may not work for another. Triggers vary from person to person, so finding what works best for you is essential. 

Here are some options to consider:

  • Ginger tea: Ginger is an anti-inflammatory plant known to help with digestive issues. It's been used as a therapeutic herb for hundreds of years for digestive health because it may help with reflux, nausea, and bloating. Ginger may speed up gastric emptying and lowering pressure on the esophageal sphincter.
  • Aloe vera juice: Aloe vera juice has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Studies suggest it may be soothing to the gastric lining and reduce reflux symptoms.
  • Herbal teas: Teas made from herbs like chamomile, licorice root, marshmallow root, and slippery elm may help to reduce irritation in the digestive tract. These demulcent herbs help coat and soothe the entire digestive tract, thus reducing irritation.
  • Coconut water: Coconut water is a natural source of electrolytes and can help to replenish your body's fluids. It’s like a healthier version of Gatorade, rich in magnesium and potassium to support healthy mineral levels, contributing to overall wellness. Add it to a smoothie for a healthy, blood sugar-balancing option.
  • Skim milk: This option is less based on science, but many people anecdotally swear by drinking milk for reflux. The idea is that milk may help by acting as a buffer to neutralize stomach acid, but this isn’t rooted in science. High-fat foods can relax the LES, so stick to low-fat or non-fat milk if you experiment with this option.2
  • Water. A simple glass of water will keep you hydrated without provoking symptoms (more on this below).

How Does Water Help Acid Reflux?

Water is a non-negotiable for general health but may also help with acid reflux. A small case study found that taking frequent sips of water could help by clearing acid from the esophagus.

While more research is needed to confirm these findings, water also helps keep your digestive tract running smoothly by supporting regular bowel movements.

Drinks to Avoid with Acid Reflux

As important as it is to consider what to drink if you have reflux, drinks to avoid are just as important. Certain ingredients can exacerbate symptoms, irritate the esophagus, or even lower the pressure of the esophageal sphincter.

Often studies are mixed, and research has found conflicting results, pointing to the importance of individualizing your diet and beverage choices to what works for your body. You may want to consider avoiding the following drinks because they could worsen symptoms of acid reflux:

  • Citrus juice. You may want to skip that morning OJ or grapefruit juice if acid reflux is flaring. Citrus fruit is linked to reflux and may contribute by lowering LES pressure and irritating the esophagus.
  • Caffeinated beverages. Caffeinated drinks are often at the top of the "do not drink" list for acid reflux, but studies are mixed. Some studies suggest caffeine could worsen reflux, while others found no relationship between tea, coffee, or reflux. Caffeine could relax the LES, so it may be worth limiting your intake if you're struggling with acid reflux.
  • Alcohol. Higher alcohol consumption is linked to GERD and reflux. This may be because alcohol can slow food movement through your digestive tract and relax the LES.
  • Peppermint tea. Peppermint tea is often used as a digestive aid and can be incredibly helpful for GI symptoms like nausea, cramping, and indigestion. However, if you have acid reflux, it might not be your best choice, as peppermint can lower the LES pressure and relax the esophagus and exacerbate symptoms.
  • Carbonated beverages. Sparkling water is everywhere, and it can be a tasty break from plain water, but there might be better choices for people with reflux. Research suggests that carbonated beverages could alter the acidity of the GI tract and increase LES pressure, both contributing to symptoms. 

Home Remedies for Acid Reflux Relief

Home remedies for acid reflux can be helpful tools to relieve your symptoms, but it's essential to visit a healthcare practitioner if you are struggling with reflux. Over time, too much acid can damage the esophagus, leading to more severe problems.

Once you've been diagnosed, you may want to discuss these home remedies with your doctor to alleviate symptoms: 

  • Baking soda. Quick chemistry lesson: baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is alkaline, the opposite of acidic. Adding baking soda to a glass of water may help reduce acidity and balance your pH (it’s the same active ingredient in some over-the-counter antacids).
  • Ginger: As mentioned earlier, ginger can be an excellent anti-inflammatory for the GI tract. If you don’t want to drink tea, you can find ginger in powder or capsule forms.
  • Marshmallow root: Marshmallow root may help reduce irritation and inflammation in the gut. You can find extracts, teas, or supplement options.
  • DGL: Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is used traditionally to support many digestive issues, including acid reflux. Studies suggest licorice may help heal mucosal lining and relieve pain.
  • Slippery elm: Slippery elm bark contains mucilage, a substance that may help soothe and protect the GI tract from acid reflux.

Note: You may have read that apple cider vinegar is a home remedy for acid reflux. While some note it helps with reflux, there’s no science to back it up. It's best to speak with your doctor before taking it as a remedy, as the acidity in vinegar could irritate the GI tract.

Acid Reflux Treatment

Acid reflux treatment may include medication, but lifestyle and diet changes can significantly improve symptoms and address root causes.

Medications prescribed for reflux usually target stomach acid. Antacids neutralize acid in the stomach, while H2 blockers and PPIs reduce how much acid your stomach produces. The problem with these options is that they can interfere with nutrient absorption, and many are not meant for long-term use. 1 

Lifestyle and dietary changes can address the root cause and provide lasting relief. Still, working with a practitioner who understands reflux and GERD and can help create a personalized treatment plan for your needs is essential.

6 Practical Tips to Manage Acid Reflux

In addition to beverages, you can make many other lifestyle and diet modifications to help manage your acid reflux symptoms.

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Overeating can add pressure on the esophagus, leading to more symptoms. Avoid skipping meals or eating large meals (especially at night).4
  • Avoid eating too close to bedtime. Lying down after you eat can put pressure on the LES and increase your chance of an acid reflux episode.4
  • Limit spicy or fried foods. Spicy foods or those with high-fat content are more likely to worsen your acid reflux symptoms.4
  • Elevate the head of your bed at night. Gravity can help clear the acid from your esophagus (versus lying flat where pressure can add to symptoms).
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress. Stress can make acid reflux symptoms worse. Exercise, deep breathing, yoga, or whatever you find relaxing can be helpful.
  • Manage weight. A healthy weight is connected to a lower risk of reflux. Studies also suggest weight loss may help improve GERD symptoms by lowering esophageal pressure.

When to See a Doctor?

Occasional reflux after a large meal may not need medical attention. However, should you experience acid reflux several times a week or have other symptoms like chest pain, it's time to see a doctor for medical advice. They can provide a thorough evaluation to rule out any underlying issues, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and offer personalized treatment plans.

Learn More About Healthy Eating Habits with Signos' Expert Advice

Healthy eating habits are vital to managing acid reflux and overall gut health. You can make positive changes by better understanding how your body responds to different foods. Signos makes it easy to make healthy choices to help you manage your acid reflux and overall health. You can learn how to make food and beverage choices that benefit your body with tailored feedback.

Find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz and learning more about nutrition and healthy habits on Signos' blog.

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References

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About the author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.

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