Coffee and IBS – Friend or Foe?

A wooden background that looks like a table top. To the left of the photo is coffee beans shaped into a heart. In the centre of heart is a cup of black coffee.

For many people, the idea of getting out of bed and not having a cup of coffee doesn’t seem achievable. In fact, caffeine, is the most common psychoactive substance and is used by about 90% of Americans (1).

With so many of us enjoying a good cup of coffee, it’s time to find out if it’s actually any good for you and if you have IBS how coffee might be affecting you.

Benefits of Coffee

Coffee, or should we say the caffeine, is an excellent pick me up. There are a range of positive side effects from drinking coffee. Claims include preventing alzheimer’s to increased weight loss.  As expected, some of the claims you read in the paper are completely false or taken out of context, however there are definitely some perks to your cup of joe. A few include:

  • increased alertness (2)
  • decrease in fatigue (2)
  • overall better mental functioning (2)
  • antioxidant properties (3)
  • improved long term memory (3)
  • reduced risk of cognitive decline as we age (4)

For  the general population, coffee is mostly beneficial if you drink it in  appropriate amounts. However, if you are caffeine sensitive or have IBS this may not be the case for you.

Side Effects of Coffee

There can be side effects with any substance and coffee is no different. Drinking too much coffee or being very sensitive to the caffeine it contains can cause the following side effects:

  • inability to sleep
  • increased anxiety
  • fine motor control may be impaired
  • fast heart rate
  • caffeine withdrawal if you stop drinking

If you find you experience any of these side effects after a cup of coffee, or really any drink that contains caffeine, try switching to caffeine free alternatives. Or look for lower caffeine options. Usually energy drinks contain massive doses of caffeine and those huge Starbucks coffees aren’t low in it either. Go for a smaller cup of coffee.

If you are a black coffee drinker, it can be quite strong on your stomach, try adding a bit of dairy free milk and drink your coffee with a meal or a snack.

IBS and Coffee?

We have looked at the benefits and side effects to coffee and caffeine but what about if you have IBS. Do these positive and negatives still apply to you?

Well, if you look at coffee in terms of FODMAP’s, 2 shots of espresso is low on all FODMAP’s. Great news! However, that isn’t to say it will all be smooth sailing for those of us with IBS. We know it doesn’t want to play by the rules. Caffeine is a stimulant and if you have IBS, particularly IBS D, it can cause too much movement in your bowels and make your symptoms a lot worse. Studies have shown that around 26-40% of those with IBS identify coffee to be a symptom trigger(5)

Furthermore, it may not be the actual coffee causing you problems.

Caffeine, the key component in coffee that we all love so much, is actually still a trigger for a lot of people with IBS, especially if you have IBS D. On top of that, if you drink your coffee with milk, this can also be a trigger for IBS. The lactose in milk is a FODMAP.


Coffee will be fine for some and not so for others. So what can you do if you still don’t think you can get by without your morning cup of joe. For starters, if you really can’t live without coffee try to reduce your intake to just one a day and see if that helps.  If you take your coffee with milk, switch to a dairy free alternative (see my post on the best dairy free milks). Try a decaf coffee, without the addition of caffeine you may find you get no IBS symptoms. However, for some this may still trigger IBS symptoms, suggesting that it might be something other than the caffeine causing you problems. Switch to tea. A lot of tea contains caffeine but there are hundreds of herbal options to try. See which tea agrees with you and which doesn’t. Sometimes with IBS it is all about experimentation and finding the right path for you.

At the end of the day, coffee and caffeine are overall beneficial to your health, as long as you aren’t having each coffee with lots of added sweet syrups and sugar. However, if you have IBS, coffee might not be the thing for you. Figure out what works for you and go from there.


  1. Mednick, S.C., Cai, D.J., Kanady, J. and Drummond, S.P., 2008. Comparing the benefits of caffeine, naps and placebo on verbal, motor and perceptual memory. Behavioural brain research, 193(1), pp.79-86.
  2. Smith, A., 2002. Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food and chemical toxicology, 40(9), pp.1243-1255.
  3. Abreu, R.V., Silva-Oliveira, E.M., Moraes, M.F.D., Pereira, G.S. and Moraes-Santos, T., 2011. Chronic coffee and caffeine ingestion effects on the cognitive function and antioxidant system of rat brains. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 99(4), pp.659-664.
  4. Rogers, P.J. and Smith, J.E., 2011. Caffeine, mood and cognition. In Lifetime nutritional influences on cognition, behaviour and psychiatric illness (pp. 251-271). Woodhead Publishing.
  5. Simren, M., et al., Food-related gastrointestinal symptoms in the irritable bowel syndrome. Digestion, 2001. 63(2): p. 108-15.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

One response to “Coffee and IBS – Friend or Foe?”

  1. […] you still unsure what coffee you can drink to go with it? Take a look at my article on all things coffee and IBS to find out if your caffeinated drink of choice is IBS […]

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