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Medical News Today: Chocolate and acid reflux: What’s the link?

It is very common to experience occasional acid reflux. Most people find that certain foods trigger symptoms more than others. One possible culprit is chocolate.

Sometimes, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which keeps the contents of the stomach in place, releases stomach acid back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that carries food directly into the stomach.

The partially digested food and stomach acid irritate the esophagus, which creates a burning sensation in the chest.

This sensation has many names, including:

In this article, learn more about the link between chocolate and acid reflux as well as which other foods to avoid.

Does chocolate cause acid reflux?

chocolate and acid reflux
Foods with high fat content, such as chocolate, may contribute to acid reflux.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there is a link between chocolate and acid reflux.

Foods with high fat content, such as chocolate, potato chips, bacon, cheese, and fried foods, slow the rate at which the stomach empties.

These foods also cause the LES, the valve-like muscle that keeps the contents of the stomach from flowing backward into the esophagus, to relax.

As a result, the stomach acid moves up the esophagus and exposes the sensitive tissue there to acid, possibly for extended periods.

Chocolate also contains methylxanthine, which is a naturally occurring substance that stimulates the heart and relaxes smooth muscle tissue.

These characteristics can sometimes come in handy, for example, when treating asthma, because it helps people feel as though their airways are opening up.

However, in people with regular acid reflux, methylxanthine also relaxes the LES, creating more opportunities for stomach acid to irritate the esophagus.

Other foods to avoid

chocolate and acid reflux curry
Spicy foods may trigger heartburn.

In addition to chocolate, other foods and beverages are known triggers for heartburn, including:

  • fatty foods
  • citrus fruits
  • spicy foods
  • tomatoes and tomato-based products
  • mint
  • onions
  • coffee
  • alcohol
  • carbonated drinks

Not everyone gets acid reflux from all of these foods, and there will be foods not on this list that activate symptoms for some people.

Diet has a significant effect on acid reflux. The following factors are also possible causes:

  • smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • being overweight
  • antihistamines
  • sedatives
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • medications for asthma and high blood pressure
  • pregnancy
  • hiatal hernia

People looking to prevent acid reflux can start by keeping a food diary. Writing down what and when they eat and how they feel afterward can help people identify — and then avoid — their trigger foods.

Coffee can be particularly troublesome for people who experience acid reflux. Like chocolate, it contains methylxanthine, which encourages the LES to relax.

Coffee also encourages the production of gastric secretions, which are very acidic and can promote heartburn.

Chili peppers are one of the key ingredients in many spicy dishes due to their capsaicin content. According to research, capsaicin may also give some people heartburn.

People trying to avoid deep fried, fatty foods can make simple substitutions, such as opting for a baked potato instead of French fries. However, attention to detail is key, as covering the baked potato with butter or sour cream may cause it to trigger symptoms.

Alcohol, carbonated beverages, and some foods — such as mint, tomatoes, and citrus fruits — may not cause acid reflux to develop on their own but might aggravate previous damage to the esophagus.

Summary

It is common for people to have occasional episodes of acid reflux. The American College of Gastroenterology report that more than 60 million people in the United States have symptoms of acid reflux at least once a month.

To avoid discomfort and the risk of complications, such as damage to the esophagus, people can take steps to reduce symptoms.

As there is a link between eating chocolate and acid reflux episodes, people with frequent indigestion should consider cutting back on chocolate and other triggers, such as alcohol, coffee, and fatty foods.

Making dietary changes, losing any excess body weight, wearing loose clothing, and not eating for a few hours before going to bed can help most people manage occasional acid reflux. Others may need to take over-the-counter antacids or see their doctor for other treatment options.