One hand holds a cigarette while another hand lights it. The hands are over a GI tract which is up in flames.

Nicotine and IBS

Last updated: July 2021

As many of us may already know, nicotine is a stimulant that is used for a smoking cessation aid and the relief of tobacco withdrawal symptoms. It is highly addictive and one of the most commonly abused drugs. There are many forms of nicotine delivery systems such as gums, patches, e-cigarettes, and other inhaled agents that are readily available across the world. and are showing an increasing trend, specifically the e-cigarette.

Hazards of nicotine

Nicotine produces many health hazards including increased risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal disorders. It also complicates reproductive health, affects cell proliferation, and causes DNA mutation which can lead to cancer. Even more frightening, nicotine can cause resistance to chemotherapy and radiation agents.1

Nicotine also is an initiator and promoter of cancer in the gastrointestinal tract. However, this is a very complex mechanism and further study at the molecular level is needed to justify the research.2

How does nicotine relate to IBS?

Similar to alcohol and caffeine, nicotine may flare up IBS symptoms. So how does nicotine affect our gut? Nicotine use has been associated with gastroesophageal reflux disorder, as well as peptic ulcer disease. Studies show this is caused by the increase of gastric acid and pepsin. It is said that the nicotine in cigarettes negatively affects the smooth muscle inside the colon, which may alter the tone and gastric motility within the colon.1

It is highly recommended to stop smoking if you have Crohn’s disease. Interestingly enough, secondhand smoke in children does affect irritable bowel disease if present. When exposed to secondhand smoke, children have a decreased risk of ulcerative colitis and an increased risk of developing Crohn's disease.3

Those of us who have used nicotine products, even me, knows firsthand what it causes our stomachs to do. It is very similar to what happens when we drink our morning cup of caffeinated coffee; a sudden urge to use the restroom! The most common gastrointestinal side effects of nicotine therapy4 are dyspepsia, indigestion, nausea, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

I can personally say I’ve experienced many of these, which gave me more of an initiative to quit. I know it’s easier said than done for some. Trust me, I’ve been there, but it’s all about taking control of your health!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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