Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – do you need to quit coffee?

Irritable bowel syndrome is the main culprit in the case when you suddenly have to poop after a few sips of your morning coffee. I don’t know about you, but it can certainly worsen my mood. Nothing worse than breaking the ceremony of the first coffee, when you are still grumpy and thinking about never leaving the bed.  And having IBS symptoms is one of the lousiest ways to start a new day. 

But, what is IBS, where does it come from, and how do you fight it? One question at a time. 

When irritable bowel syndrome starts its dance, you better find a toilet, and find it fast
Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

What is irritable bowel syndrome?

Irritable bowel syndrome is a combination of problems inside your digestive system. It usually manifests as a stomach ache combined with bowel movement. Three basic types of irritable bowel syndrome exist:

  • IBS-C (constipation)
  • IBS-D (diarrhoea)
  • mixed IBS, with symptoms that range from diarrhoea to constipation

So, either you poop a lot, or you don’t poop for three days, or even worse, have a combination of those two states.

Luckily, you can’t die from irritable bowel syndrome. But it can make your life miserable and force you to change some of your habits. For instance, drinking coffee and a glass of water. Here are some usual symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome:

  • Diarrhoea – sudden diarrhoea attacks, especially in the morning
  • Cramps in the lower belly
  • Bloated belly
  • Indigestion
  • A sudden need to pee more often
  • Food intolerance

IBS symptoms are more common among women, especially around menstruation time.

Does coffee cause irritable bowel syndrome?

Coffee is not the main reason for the appearance of IBS. However, coffee can worsen the symptoms. Let’s look at the two usual things to blame.

Caffeine amount

Caffeine is the world’s most used legal drug. It boosts our spirit, awakens us and keeps us from quitting our job. Sadly, caffeine also stimulates our stomach to produce more and more stomach acid. And not just that, caffeine also makes us wanna go and poop. In company time, if possible. If you have an IBS-D, caffeine will only make it worse. A lot worse.

The fun part? Caffeine is all around us. And not just in coffee or tea. Dark chocolate, soda, energy drinks…they all have a substantial amount of caffeine. It is easy to cross that border of 400 mg of caffeine per day.

Coffee acidity

Coffee with more acidity won’t cause you irritable bowel syndrome, but it will make it worse. Extra acid, combined with all the usual symptoms, guarantees you a serious time on the ceramic throne. 

Acidity is determined by bean type, as well as the brewing method. If you suspect the coffee acidity is one of your culprits, switch to less acidic beans. 

Do you need to quit drinking coffee if you have irritable bowel syndrome?

No. God, no. Let’s try a few other things. Don’t get so drastic immediately.

Reduce the amount of coffee

The modern way of life sometimes means chugging one coffee after another. Stress or social etiquette, but sometimes you end your day shaking from all the excess coffee. Happened to me many times. Try to limit your coffee spike to, let’s say, two cups per day.

Change the coffee brand

Perhaps your gourmet coffee isn’t as gourmet as you think. Some people just have problems with certain coffee brands. It doesn’t necessarily mean those brands are low quality. Just your guts don’t fancy them. Seek the brand with milder levels of acidity, and stay away from those caffeine bombs that suddenly became so popular.

Decaf can save you from the irritable bowel syndrome

Decaf coffee is oh so hated among certain bean heads. Understandable if you use the cheapest and the most generic brand. However, decaf coffee slowly became much more than a coffee byproduct, as some coffee aficionados claim. Decaf can surprise you with its quality if you just give it a chance. And your stomach might be grateful.

Try some tea

Let’s put aside the leaf vs bean tribe differences. Tea is a magnificent concoction, especially in the autumn or winter. But, stay away from teas with a high amount of caffeine. Those are, respectively:

  • Matcha
  • Black Tea
  • Pu-erh
  • Green Tea
  • Mate

Instead, try the milder ones that will calm your stomach ache, like chamomile or thyme.

Tea - great solution to your irritable bowel syndrome
Photo by Mareefe from Pexels

Plant-based milk

Got milk? Most adults lose the ability to digest lactose. That usually equals diarrhoea, cramps and bloating. Not great for your IBS.

Luckily, plant-based milk is at its peak in popularity. Replace your usual (cow?) milk with something more stomach-friendly. Something like:

  • Oat milk
  • Almond milk
  • Soy milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Rice milk
  • Hemp milk

The opportunities are endless. My favourite is oat milk. 

Quit coffee

It seems drastic, but if the coffee is the cause of your IBS, and your doctor confirmed it, perhaps it’s time to quit. We will miss you, and we will meet again, under the Great Coffee Bush on the other side of reality.

Conclusion

In most cases, coffee is not the cause of your irritable bowel syndrome. But it doesn’t help, also. Talk to your doctor and see what caused your IBS and how you can make it better. Most solutions include changes in diet and life habits. And sadly, a reduction of your daily coffee intake. 

If you still can’t resist a good cup of joe, there are plenty of low-caffeine options out there for you to try. The team at Coffeeness.de tested 15 coffee drinks in a laboratory to find out how much caffeine is in coffee, by preparation method. Depending on how severe your IBS is, you might get away with drip coffee. Definitely avoid large amounts of ristretto and cold brew coffee. 

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