Do You Have to Quit Caffeine If You Have IBS?

Everyone with IBS has different tolerance levels for coffee and soda.

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When you learn you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), your doctor will likely tell you about some common triggers. “You may need to be careful around dairy, fried foods, and caffeine,” they might say. For many, hearing that you may have to give up caffeine because of your IBS might be quite a bummer.

But do you really have to give it up? Well, it depends.

How Caffeine Affects IBS

Your intestinal walls are made of muscle, and they push food through by contracting. (Imagine how a snake swallows food and squeezes it through their body.) Certain foods can cause your gut to contract faster than usual. That’s known as increased gut motility.

Caffeine is one of the foods that can speed up your gut motility. If you have IBS, you may be hyper-sensitive to these faster contractions. As a result, you may have IBS symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea.

Do You Have to Quit Coffee, Soda, and Energy Drinks?

It’s important to remember that everyone with IBS has varying tolerance for different triggers. For some, a drop of caffeine could trigger severe symptoms. They might want to avoid all sources of caffeine entirely (including chocolate and some medicines). For others, they may have little to no reaction to caffeinated food and drinks. Then, there are people in the middle who can tolerate one caffeinated beverage or so per day.

If you can’t imagine life without caffeine, you might want to start a symptom diary so you can find your caffeine tolerance level. Monitor each time you consume caffeine (or take a medicine that contains caffeine). Record how much you had, as well as any symptoms that may follow. You may find that you can handle caffeine in small amounts, but you start having symptoms once you have a second latte, for example.

Another option is to do an elimination diet. Cut out all sources of caffeine for at least two weeks. Then, reintroduce caffeine to see what symptoms occur. You might find that something else was causing your morning IBS symptoms—and not your A.M. coffee. (Here are other common IBS food triggers to consider.)

Both of these methods can help you learn what amount of caffeine you can handle, or if you’re better off going 100 percent caffeine-free.