June 26, 2012

Chocolate: Motility vs GERD

Iced chocolate using homemade almond milk (from Upright Coffee) 

As I write this, I can feel acid gurgling in my stomach/esophagus.  I just had a square of dark chocolate ten minutes ago, and this is what must be responsible for my latest GERD episode.   The chocolate has become a post-breakfast routine but also a bad habit.   My GERD symptoms (burning, belching, "food in throat," nausea) have been picking up over the past few months, probably due to the chocolate and also increased caffeinated tea drinking -- I've been going through an "I don't care, I just want my tea!" phase.  You can't fool your body, though, and I finally am returning to my GERD-friendly eating approaches:  reducing portions, eating and drinking slowly, and limiting the tea/chocolate.


The chocolate is a conundrum.   One of my GERD triggers is constipation.   Each morning is a race against time for me, a nightmare of trying to relax my mind and body while the hours march on, the commuting clock ticking away.   Do I spend more time trying to succeed in the bathroom and risk being late for work, or leave the house on time but uncomfortable, bloated, and full of acid?  Then there's the rising stress as I realize I'm going to be both bloated and late for work, and now the day is in total shambles before it even begins!  

The past few weeks have been awful for me GERD-wise.   As I mentioned, my lackadaisical attitude to tea has definitely caused problems.  I've also been ending my breakfast with one or two squares of dark chocolate after noticing a relationship between the chocolate and "staying regular."   I've tried prunes, prune juice, figs, bran and other common strategies, but nothing works as consistently and quickly as chocolate.    So now the dilemma is choosing between GERD reflux caused by chocolate or constipation.


Around the Internet, chocolate's reputation as a constipation aid is disputed.  Numerous sites link constipation with chocolate, but just as many refer to chocolate as having a positive effect.   In my case, chocolate is most definitely helpful to motility.   As for being a GERD trigger, chocolate releases seratonin, causing the sphincter to relax, which results in reflux.   On the other hand, seratonin causes things to, well, relax -- probably why my intestines work better after the chocolate.

On a side note: chocolate and almond milk has been a regular treat.  I've been having mine at the Upright Coffee stand, where they make their own almond milk.  I also convinced a chain bistro to make this for me (not as good as Upright), and I perfected making this at home using Upright's method of swirling cocoa into a water base and adding this to the almond milk.  I feel powerful after drinking this, and have not had any GERD episodes during or after a cup.

I don't know what my answer is -- I am confident having more regular bowels, and healthy motility definitely makes for a happier gut for me, overall.  Should I start taking TUMS before or after the chocolate?  Do I try to convince my body that a few prunes are as quick acting?  What about raw, unprocessed cocoa (cacao) -- do different types/intensities of chocolate act differently as triggers?   Does it matter if I have the chocolate with other food, or without tea?  This is something to explore… stay tuned!


Wright and Castell's "The Adverse Effect of Chocolate on Lower Esophageal Sphincter Pressure" in the American Journal of Digestive Disorders

Livestrong's article on chocolate and GERD includes a number of links about the subject.

From the Washington Post, a review of "The Un-Constipated Gourmet: Secrets to a Moveable Feast" by Danielle Svetcov.


  1. My never fail potty-friendly breakfast

    Shredded carrots (giant bowl)
    diced apples
    chopped walnuts

    Can top with yogurt if you'd like.

    When I eat it daily, I've got a early am appt with the loo. Without it, who knows.

  2. Anonymous, that sounds like a healthy start indeed, all around! I have tried doing a "green" breakfast, with various green veggies, string beans, and edamame -- that doesn't necessarily help my intestines, but it's a great breakfast. If only I didn't love cereal so much!