Is Coffee an IBS Trigger? (What about Decaf?)

  • Is coffee an IBS Trigger? Yes! All coffee beans contain an enzyme that's a strong GI irritant. EVEN DECAF.

    • This can cause painful spasms, urgency, and diarrhea in people who don't even have IBS. Imagine what it can do to you.

  • This is true for regular and decaf, instant or freshly ground, espressos, lattes, and a plain old cuppa Joe.

  • Coffee stimulates the release of gastrin, a hormone that affects both gastric motility and the secretion of hydrochloric acid into the stomach.

  • Coffee itself is also highly acidic, which can aggravate upper GI issues such as reflux or heartburn.

  • Coffee increases acid production in the GI tract, causing even more irritation. Again, this is true for both caffeinated and decaf.

    • The irritation of the stomach lining can also trigger gastritis, which causes pain, heartburn, nausea and vomiting.

  • More bad news: the caffeine in non-decaf coffee is a GI stimulant. This is insult on top of injury, as caffeine alone can cause cramps, urgency, and diarrhea.

  • Is IBS-constipation helped by coffee's laxative effect? No, as coffee is such a harsh irritant it's likely to cause cramps, spasms, diarrhea, and even rebound constipation, leaving you worse than ever.

    • Coffee can cause IBS spasms severe enough to seize up the colon to such an extent that motility is slowed or almost halted, causing or exacerbating constipation.

  • Adding insult to injury: drinking coffee first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, as is typical, offers absolutely no buffer for the acid, irritant, and stimulant effects of the beverage. In addition, mornings are routinely stressful for many people, as they're tired, rushed, and trying to get out of the house to school or work. Adding a deadly dietary trigger like coffee into a hectic morning schedule is virtually guaranteed to cause IBS problems.

  • Don't go cold turkey with caffeine! If you drink decaf, quit coffee now and you should see improvements in your IBS immediately. Your first morning without coffee will likely be your first morning without abdominal cramps. If you're used to coffee with caffeine, quitting can trigger caffeine withdrawal, and you may suffer headaches for up to two weeks.

    • Switch to a caffeinated green or black tea. The caffeine will prevent withdrawal headaches. The teas will be much easier on you gut than even decaf coffee. Then make a gradual transition off of caffeinated tea onto a naturally caffeine free herbal tea that actively helps IBS.

  • Try to replace coffee with hot teas that actively help IBS symptoms:

  • Can't give it up? If you just love coffee (and this is often the underlying reason people continue to drink it - they likely know that it's affecting their IBS, but it's never easy to give up something delicious) there are some interesting substitutes to try.

    Rocamojo is a roasted soybean drink available at health food stores that satisfies many hard-core coffee drinkers. Teeccino is blend of herbs, nuts, fruits and grains that are roasted, ground and brewed just like coffee, and is also available at health food stores.

    Chai, an Indian spiced-tea drink (decaf versions are available), is positively luscious when brewed with soy, rice, or oat milk, and has the same hearty quality that coffee offers. You can buy chai tea bags, loose leaf tea, or even ready brewed at most coffee shops. Or brew my own chai recipe at home!

Tip Takeaway: For the single worst drink for all IBS symptoms, coffee is a strong contender. Wean yourself off of it gradually to avoid caffeine withdrawal, and then avoid it as much as possible.

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