Are you feeling it today? You have an overflowing to-do list. The atmosphere is starting to feel strained, you start feeling fidgety and want to go and get a coffee. But is there a link between coffee and IBS?
Everyone’s IBS is different.
But if you have noticed stress as being a factor that causes IBS flare-ups, then coffee may be lighting up your sensitive nervous system even further.
Is coffee a “bad” stimulant?
For a long time I read about coffee being a stimulant, and for a long time I was absolutely convinced that it had no negative effect on me.
It didn’t keep me up at night. I could drink coffee any time with no after effects – or so I thought.
Plus I needed a coffee! Let’s face it, when you wake up with IBS, you feel you need something powerful to try and get you going, to get that brain to function, despite how awful you can be feeling. Coffee!
As coffee was my normal routine, I couldn’t see (or feel) the effects it was having on me.
To understand this I had to witness the effects of coffee in isolation.
Coffee and IBS: The Experiment
One day I had the morning off. I had a small early breakfast and just a glass of water. The early breakfast had been more or less digested, and I had a coffee and started working on an easy, no-stress task.
All was well for about an hour. Then I noticed the bloating under my ribcage starting up. I started to feel uncomfortable.
I did this experiment the next day – and then at the weekend. Same cause, same effect.
Changing the habit
For a while I switched to decaf. I felt a little better, but I was still bloated. I subsequently learned of all the stripping agents that are used to take the caffeine out of coffee, so I’m not really surprised I didn’t digest them.
But I needed something, some drink to replace coffee. And I really don’t like tea (which the French find is hilarious for a Brit).
I like the ritual of making a hot drink: stopping what you are doing, waiting for the water to get hot, having a break.
It took me time to find one that had natural ingredients in it: chicory, barley, malted barley and rye.
The one I am using, a cereal drink called Caro by Nestlé contains some gluten. However in the UK, Barley Cup is gluten free and organic.
I would be interested to hear what you are using elsewhere in the world!
Getting it wrong before getting it right
At first, I found my new coffee substitute disgusting – because I followed the dosage in the tin. It was far too strong and had congealed bits floating in it be. So I abandoned that idea for a while.
A couple of weeks later I came back to that product, and I got better at using it. I experimented and finally found my ideal dosage.
I even tried putting coconut oil in it instead of milk. The taste actually wasn’t bad, but the oil floating on the top put me off. Plus when my coffee went cold (as mine often does) the coconut oil hardened up and looked like bits of mold floating on the top.
So I abandoned that idea!
I started to feel a little less tense, and less bloated too. I realized that I had been partly fuelling my own stress levels with coffee.
One you have really made that link (if it applies to you), you can start looking in the right direction and making those small changes that matter.
But I need coffee to have a bowel movement
If you really DO need a coffee to get your bowels moving in the morning, just have one cup of decaf. This study shows that decaf has the same effect on bowel movements as real coffee. So try that out and see if it works for you:)
Can I still have a coffee?
By all means. As long as you do not add other food (or other) triggers at the same time, you may find it very manageable from time to time.
And you may find you can handle one, but not several cups in a day. Or just a cup from time to time.
In actual fact, I found that when you find a good substitute and feel better, you’re not drawn to coffee in the same way anymore.
You no longer NEED coffee. But you can CHOOSE to have one out of pleasure.
An alternative solution
If you don’t need a drink ritual, but you do need a boost, Essential Oil of Peppermint is a good pick-me-up alternative.
Just unscrew the cap, and just take just a sniff.
A natural solution with, as far as I can see, no side effects.
Extra support for those brain-foggy days. Try putting one next to your alarm clock, and another on your desk.
A final word on coffee and IBS
Although coffee wasn’t creating a beneficial effect on me, you really need to experiment for yourself. We all have different reactions to food and drink.4