Caffeine and IBS
It's already well-known that coffee and soda are terrible triggers of IBS – enough so that I thought each deserved their individual blog post by me on this site. However, what about caffeine in general?
My daily dose of caffeine
At least for me, a fairly modest daily intake of caffeine didn't seem to especially bother me on its own when not a part of soda or coffee, both of which contain other additional IBS triggers besides caffeine (such as fructose or carbonation in the case of soda, and the high acidity rate of coffee). For this reason, I continued to drink tea instead, alternating between black and green teas, for most of my 20s and well into my early 30s without much trouble. Unless I was already having a flare-up, in which case I avoided regular tea for a few days. Regular tea was a common staple of my diet.
But around the time I was 32, that began to change as well. In addition to IBS, my GERD had started to flare constantly and was very uncomfortable. So, I once again reevaluated my diet and decided that perhaps I should try to wean myself off all caffeine, at least for a while. I decided to switch first to herbal teas in the morning, like chamomile.
When I was feeling a little bit better, I switched back to black tea BUT decided to only drink decaf. I should also add I am very strict about only drinking organic decaf black tea. There is a big difference in the decaffeinating process in organic vs. non-organic teas. The latter involving a more chemical process that I prefer to steer clear of.
My IBS challenges turned long-term
At first, I thought my switch to decaf would also be temporary. However, over the ensuing months, I realized I felt better without caffeine in my daily life. I was less jittery and nervous, more restful, and my general IBS and menstrual symptoms also saw some slight overall improvements. I decided to stick to decaf, and that's been true now for nearly 8 years.
I will occasionally indulge in caffeinated tea or iced tea (I have a weakness for raspberry Snapple iced tea in the spring and summer months!) when I am feeling good or in the mood or just want or need a little extra boost of energy. But I easily go months without drinking any caffeinated beverages. I will also sometimes have a tiny bit of chocolate, but not often (because it is also an IBS trigger for me).
What research says about caffeine and IBS
In trying to find out more about what the experts say, I found one peer review paper on dietary recommendations for those with IBS.
Regarding caffeine, the paper noted: "Recommendations on caffeine intake in IBS, according to dietary guidelines and/or scientific literature: (1) caffeine intake should be assessed in IBS patients and, if related to symptoms, daily intake should be restricted to 400 mg caffeine, which is the safe limit for most adults; and (2) sources of caffeine to watch for include coffee and tea, but also energy drinks, soft drinks, dark chocolate, and some over-the-counter analgesics."1
The paper also noted that sometimes the impacts of caffeine on IBS can be mixed, though, with coffee, it seems more clear.
Do what makes sense for you
My advice? Do what seems best for your body. If you can get away with caffeine or enjoy it in your life and it isn't exacerbating your IBS (or any other medical conditions), don't feel like you need to give it up to check off an arbitrary box. But if you are still struggling with flares, it might not hurt to see if reducing or eliminating caffeine from your daily or weekly diet benefits your IBS! Just remember though: If you drink caffeine daily, it's probably best to wean off it gradually rather than quit cold turkey to avoid side effects of withdrawal (which can include headaches, and yes, potentially gut issues) as it is, after all, a kind of drug.
Have you cut caffeine out of your diet? Has it helped or hurt? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!
Have you ever had a public IBS accident?