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Can you drink coffee when you have IBS?

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Coffee and IBSAlternativesOther triggersMedicationsSummary
Coffee and IBS is a controversial combination, with some people claiming it is fine and others stating it is a no-go. So what can you believe?
Medically reviewed by Jared Meacham, Ph.D., RD, PMP, MBA, CSCS
Updated on March 31, 2023

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’re probably all too familiar with side effects like bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and stomach pain.

You might also be well aware of what activates your symptoms and know to be cautious about what you eat and drink.

With coffee being a beloved beverage choice across the globe and a morning must for many, it’s only natural if you wonder whether it’s safe to consume when you have IBS.

This article examines whether you can drink coffee with IBS, common IBS triggers, and alternative drinks to try.

Coffee and IBS

A cup of coffee with a fern pattern in the foam
Photography by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant that can aggravate IBS symptoms.

In many people, caffeine speeds up bowel movements. In those with IBS, this can worsen symptoms like diarrhea and stomach cramping.

Additionally, coffee is an acidic beverage. Some individuals with IBS find that this quality can cause heartburn and acid reflux or aggravate IBS symptoms like gas.

However, besides anecdotal notes on people’s personal experiences with combining coffee and IBS, research on the topic is scarce, except for a 2021 study from Iran. This study included over 3,000 adults and found that drinking coffee was associated with a higher risk of IBS, especially in people with overweight or obesity.

That’s not to say that everyone with IBS has to avoid the popular drink, as some may be able to enjoy it without issues. Plus, it’s important to note that not all coffee is created equal.

For instance, decaffeinated coffee may be a better option for those with IBS since it contains significantly less caffeine.

Furthermore, some types of coffee, such as cold brew, are generally less acidic and may be better tolerated by some individuals.

Coffee alternatives

If you’re looking for a coffee alternative, there are many options to consider.

Firstly, if you’re after something warm and soothing, you can explore different herbal teas. In particular, older 2006 research suggests that peppermint tea may offer natural soothing properties that can help relieve IBS symptoms.

Another popular coffee alternative is green tea. It offers a bit of energizing caffeine, but not as much as coffee. Plus, it’s been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and improve your gut microbiome, which might benefit both your IBS symptoms and overall health.

On the other hand, if you’re craving a warm, creamy drink, try a fragrant chai tea latte made with a milk type, possibly nondairy, that matches your dietary and nutrition preferences.

Lastly, don’t forget about the childhood favorite hot chocolate if you’re after an afternoon pick-me-up. You can make it more nourishing by keeping the sugar content low, opting for dark chocolate, and using a milk type that fits your diet.

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Foods and drinks that trigger IBS symptoms

In addition to coffee, many other foods and drinks can trigger IBS symptoms.

These include:

  • high fat foods
  • alcohol
  • carbonated beverages
  • spicy foods
  • certain artificial sweeteners
  • high FODMAP foods

Which specific foods cause negative effects depends on the individual. For instance, you may be able to enjoy plenty of spicy foods without experiencing any worsened IBS symptoms while the same foods can cause significant side effects in other people.

This means it’s important to work on identifying your personal IBS triggers so that you can avoid them whenever possible and reduce your symptoms.

Keeping a food diary and working with a registered dietitian can help you track what you eat and recognize how it affects your IBS symptoms.

IBS medication

If you’re struggling to manage your IBS symptoms on your own, certain medications may help.

Although there are no targeted medications that address all IBS symptoms, several different medications are available to improve specific IBS symptoms.

These include:

  • Antispasmodic drugs: These medications reduce the movement of your bowels, which can minimize diarrhea and cramping.
  • Laxatives: If you experience constipation, laxatives can support bowel movements.
  • Fiber supplements: These can help improve bowel movements, especially if you have chronic constipation.

It’s a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional about the best treatment options to ensure you get the best relief possible for your symptoms.

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If you have IBS, coffee may aggravate your symptoms due to its caffeine content and acidity. If this is the case, you may be better able to tolerate decaffeinated coffee or less acidic options like cold brew.

That said, some people with IBS experience no symptoms if they drink coffee. This highlights the many individual variations of this condition.

If you’d like to cut down or completely avoid coffee, you can enjoy alternative drinks like herbal tea, chai lattes, or hot chocolate for those soothing morning or afternoon cuppas.

If you’re finding it difficult to manage your IBS symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor or a registered dietitian. They can offer tailored guidance on how to identify your triggers, learn about possible supplementary medications, and explore if you need to try other treatment options.

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