Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Does Alcohol Worsen Acidity (Heartburn)?

Alcohol triggers or worsens acidity (heartburn) in many ways. But results are ambiguous about some mechanisms.

The only good news about the relationship between alcohol and acidity (heartburn) is that we don’t know everything about it yet.

Different Ways Alcohol Worsens Acidity

Here are some ways in which alcohol triggers or heightens acidity.

Alcohol Irritates Throat and Oesophagus (Food Pipe)

Alcohol comes in direct contact with the muscles of the throat and oesophagus, damaging them.

Verdict: HARMFUL

As we eat food, it moves down from our food pipe (oesophagus) into the stomach. The inner lining of the oesophagus has no protection against stomach acid because once the food enters the stomach, it is not supposed to back up. To ensure that, there is a valve or sphincter called LES (Lower Esophageal Sphincter) between the oesophagus and the stomach. It opens to let food into the stomach and tightens thereafter.

Alcohol Loosens Food Pipe Valve

Alcohol relaxes the LES valve, which should allow corrosive stomach acid to come back into the delicate oesophagus—a process called Acid Reflux—causing burning pain in the chest.

Verdict: HARMFUL

Alcohol and Acid Reflux

I said the relaxed LES valve ‘should’ cause acid reflux because research shows no clear correlation between alcohol consumption and acid reflux.

Exhibit 1 shows different alcoholic drinks and their alcohol concentrations.

standard drink size chart
Exhibit 1. Different alcoholic drinks and their alcohol concentrations

Some studies show light alcohols like beers are bad for acid reflux but hard liquors are protective. Some other studies show that light drinkers had worse problems than heavy drinkers.

But before the drinkers among you can rejoice, some studies showed alcohol worsened acid reflux.

Finally, a study demonstrated that alcohol had no effect on acid reflux and another brain-numbing study showed that drinking water was worse than drinking beer or wine for acid reflux.

Verdict: UNCLEAR

Alcohol and Stomach Acid Production

Once again, there is no clarity on this.

Old research (1993) claimed that alcohol in low concentrations (below five per cent alcohol by volume) stimulated acid secretion while in higher concentrations, it had no effect or a slightly protective one. This indicates that beer should stimulate acid secretion, while wines and hard liquors should reduce it.

But many studies since then claim a ‘profound’ insight: Regular alcohol drinkers may have an increased, reduced, or normal stomach acid secretion.🤦

Verdict: UNCLEAR

Alcohol Erodes Stomach Lining

Alcohol erodes the inner lining of the stomach, which can lead to ulcers. Since the contents of our stomach are highly corrosive, it has a protective mucus lining that can withstand strong stomach acid. Once this lining gets damaged, ulcers develop.

Verdict: HARMFUL

Alcohol Produces Toxic Chemicals

Alcohol is metabolised (digested) in the liver into a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. It moves around the body through blood and can damage the cells of the digestive tract.

Verdict: HARMFUL

Which Type Of Alcohol Is Better?

It is unclear which type of alcoholic beverage is better, or rather less bad, for acidity based on its alcohol contents. However, drinks with acidic pH or with acidity-stimulating flavouring are best avoided. Broadly:

  • Wines are the worst alcohol for acidity, as they have the most acidic pH.
  • Gin, tequila, and non-grain vodkas have the least acidic pH, making them better candidates among alcoholic drinks against acidity issues.
  • Avoid alcohols flavoured with coffee, chocolate, and peppermint as they can trigger acid reflux back into your food pipe.

My Views

I feel that alcohol consumption worsens acidity in many indirect ways. Scientific studies on alcohol and acidity overlook these unexpected quarters (pun unintended!):

  • Carbonated Drinks: People mix alcohol with aerated or soft drinks which are known to worsen acidity symptoms.
  • Sugary or Citrus Drinks: People consume alcohol having sugars or citrus flavours, or use mixers with such flavours, which can trigger acidity attacks.
  • Junk Foods: Drinking alcohol is often a social or ‘relaxation’ event when people put their guard down. Often, spicy and oily food is eaten with alcohol, which worsens acidity.
  • Impaired Judgement: Once you have downed a couple of pegs, your discretion about behaviours that avoid acidity may go down. For example, you may indulge in foods containing chocolate, garlic, onions, or peppermint.
  • Smoking: Many drinkers also smoke at the same time. Someone drinking in a bar (pub) may inhale secondary smoke. Either causes a severe bout of acidity attacks.
  • Night Time: Drinking alcohol is mostly a nighttime activity. Sleeping within 3–4 hours of drinking anything, leave alone alcohol, is going to lead to acid reflux.
  • Dehydration: Alcohol can cause dehydration, increasing the acidity of the stomach contents.


  • Drink in moderation—a drink or two a day.
  • Avoid mixing with aerated drinks
  • Avoid spicy and oily junk foods with them
  • Stay hydrated.

To Read More

First published on: 23rd November 2021
Image Credit: ELEVATE from Pexels
Last Updated on: 10th June 2023


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