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How Caffeine Can Trigger Irritable Bowel Syndrome November 30, 2007 9:06 AM

The high prevalence these days of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is thought to be linked with both diet and stress. It is estimated that about 1.4 million people in the U.S. suffer from IBS, with symptoms like bloating, cramping, pain in the abdomen, diarrhea, and constipation. These symptoms of IBS can be triggered off by coffee, other products with caffeine in them, decaffeinated coffee, carbonated beverages, chocolate, high-fat foods, and insoluble fiber.

The inflammation of the intestines due to IBS can be so severe that it hampers the absorption of nutrients, which leads to deficiencies. However, by making adequate changes in the diet, the symptoms can be alleviated, and also prevent the recurrence of the disorder ‘’ Certain food substances such as caffeine, alcohol, sorbitol, fructose, and fat have gut effects even in healthy people.’’ (Source - Tell Me What to Eat If I Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Nutrition You Can Live With. By Elaine Magee. Published 2000. Career Press.)

However, one of the habits that most people find hard to change is the consumption of coffee, due to cultural habits, which are entrenched along with addiction to coffee. The symptoms of withdrawal of caffeine can be nausea, acute headaches, loose stools and vomiting.

Here are a few examples of caffeine’s deleterious effects on the intestines:

Caffeine over-stimulates the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract

Within four minutes of consuming it, a laxative effect is produced by caffeine in people who are susceptible to IBS by stimulating the motor activity of the rectosigmoid part of the intestines. Even small doses of caffeinated coffee can trigger this off, stimulating the evacuation of stools even though the body may not be ready for it.

Caffeinated coffee’s acidity irritates intestines

Being very acidic, caffeinated coffee stimulates gastric acids to be hypersecreted.
This has the tendency of speeding up the gastric emptying process, which can lead to the acidic contents of the stomach being passed into the small intestines too early. This can cause injury to the tissues of the intestines.

Effects of elevated stress hormones produced by caffeine

Epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, which are stress hormones, are elevated with the consumption of caffeinated coffee. Because of the “fight-or-flight” effect produced by these hormones, which results in an increase in the blood pressure and the heart rate, blood from the digestive system is diverted, which can result in indigestion. Since emotions and stress affect the neural control of the digestive system, in the sedentary lifestyle of today, the heightened state of continuous stress induced by the consumption of caffeine can have adverse effects, especially for people with IBS, who are highly affected by stress.

The diuretic effects of caffeine

Because caffeine is a diuretic, it stimulates the excessive elimination of fluids, leading to dehydration. As water is an essential part of digestion and the process of elimination, the dehydration caused by excessive intake of caffeine can make the stools hard which leads to constipation.

Caffeine has other deleterious effects on people with IBS. For example, it inhibits the absorption of magnesium. Magnesium is an essential mineral required for maintaining the regularity of the bowels. It is often used to treat constipation, because of its laxative effect. Magnesium is also vital for healing wounds, which is important for IBS sufferers because the lining of the colon in such people is inflamed and needs to be healed. Caffeine also interferes with the absorption of Gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is produced naturally in the brain as well as the gastro-intestinal tract. This neurotransmitter is important for managing stress and mood, and it has a soothing effect on the gastro-intestinal tract.

Since caffeine has such adverse effects on the gastro-intestinal tract, it is recommended that people suffering from IBS should eliminate the consumption of caffeine, which will help to relieve the disease’s symptoms.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
 December 01, 2007 10:03 PM

Interesting.  I did not know about IBS and this particular "irritant" connected with it.  I know someone who has this and did not know caffeine could cause them such problems.  Thanks for posting.   [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
hey don! December 07, 2007 3:21 AM

awesome article, thanx for posting it. i can actually relate to the laxative effect. Before i stop coffee, i thought i could never poop without it. Then my digestive system started working again & i felt like ... not dependant on anything. Coffee is like tea,  cigarets, alcohol, mary jane, ect. Just a freaking drug  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
 December 07, 2007 8:16 AM

Very interesting article. I really try to cut back with coffee...but it's such an addiction. A drug indeed. I remember when I cut back - cause now I don't drink that much- it was like my body was complaining. I had migraines and bad mood...Scary  [ send green star]
 
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