How does coffee affect IBS?

Like me, I am sure that most of you who are reading this will love coffee! For many people, coffee forms part of our morning ritual, it’s our BFF on a busy day and it can be a great excuse for bringing friends together and catching up. But does coffee effect digestive health and is it ok for those with IBS to consume? 

Did you know that coffee contains caffeine which is actually classed as an acceptable drug? This is due to the physical effects it can have on our body – Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant i.e. it keeps us alert/awake.

How caffeine affects the gut:

Stress & anxiety

In high doses, caffeine can trigger the stress response by stimulating the release of cortisol (our stress hormone). For individuals who are already stressed and/or have a genetic susceptibility to the effects of caffeine then consuming caffeine may contribute to the magnitude in which they feel stress. This in turn may aggravate symptoms in individuals with IBS-anxiety.

Did you know that genetic variants in CYP1A2 liver detoxification enzymes determine if you are a fast or slow metaboliser of caffeine. Slow metabolisers might be more sensitive to the jittery and anxiety-like effects of coffee.

Stomach acid

For many people with IBS, they find that coffee can trigger acid reflux. Unfortunately there is limited good quality scientific research investigating the effects of coffee on stomach acid. So as always, listen to your body and tailor consumption to your individual needs.

Bowel movements

Caffeine can stimulate gut motility i.e. the movement of food through the bowel which may cause looser stools. IBS-D sufferers may find that caffeine can trigger a bout of diarrhoea. 

Are there any benefits to drinking coffee for IBS? 

In short. Yes!

Coffee is a great source of polyphenols – beneficial plant compounds that possess powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Interestingly, research shows that polyphenols have a beneficial impact on the gut microbiome by improving the composition and diversity of gut bugs. A diverse gut microflora is central to a well-functioning gut and overall health and vitality. 

So should you drink coffee if you have IBS?

The answer is … it depends!

It really does depend on you as an individual but here is my (general) advice:

  • Opt for a good quality, organic coffee to make the most of those microbiome loving polyphenols. And stay away from conventional coffee that is sprayed with harmful chemicals as these can negatively disrupt the balance of your gut microflora. One of my favourite coffee brands is Exhale. Grumpy Mule and Union Coffee are also great choices.
  • Buffer the effects of caffeine on cortisol/anxiety by consuming coffee after breakfast (not on an empty stomach) and ensure you make plenty of time for daily stress management and relaxation – even just 5-10 minutes a day will make the world of difference. 
  • Avoid drinking coffee after 2pm to avoid its stimulating effects from disrupting sleep. 
  • If you are someone who is susceptible to anxiety and/or altered bowel movements after drinking coffee then consider making a switch to decaf. I personally love exhales decaf coffee as it still contains all the polyphenols of their regular coffee so you’re still not missing out. 
  • If you have IBS then you may find a more tailored approach around coffee and caffeine intake can better manage your symptoms, rather than just banning or reducing it without need.

Tailoring caffeine intake to better manage digestive symptoms can be tricky. If you would like a personalised approach to caffeine consumption and IBS management then let’s have a chat about how we can create one for you.

Book in for a free 30 minute phone consultation. 

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