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The Connection Between Alcohol and IBS

Although you cannot develop IBS from drinking alcohol, it can trigger IBS symptoms — alcohol irritates the digestive system and is a toxin.

Even just a small amount causes the stomach to produce excess acid. Heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining).

Alcohol can also reduce the function of the lower esophageal sphincter — the valve located between the lower end of the esophagus and the stomach. When this valve does not close properly it allows stomach acid to pass into the esophagus, causing acid reflux. Over time, this can develop into gastroesophageal reflux disease.

  • Small amounts of alcohol accelerate the emptying of the stomach, which can cause diarrhea.
  • Large amounts of alcohol have the opposite effect and slow down gastric emptying. This leads to constipation.
  • Alcohol also disrupts the natural balance of intestinal microflora, which can affect the absorption of nutrients and cause diarrhea.

Alcohol is also a factor in the development and perpetuation of leaky gut syndrome, where microscopic holes form in the gut lining. This sets off an inappropriate immune response which has been linked to autoimmune diseases and other chronic health complaints.

Identifying IBS Symptoms

Of all the functional gastrointestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common. It affects around 10-15% of adults in the U.S. (ACG, 2018)

Many people who have mild IBS do not recognize the symptoms. These may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Gas and bloating
  • Food intolerance
  • Fatigue

Alcohol and IBS Symptoms

If you suffer from IBS, drinking alcohol might trigger a flare-up of symptoms. You may notice your stomach feels bloated or you may experience stomach cramping. You may also have diarrhea or constipation — or both.

Just how much of an effect alcoholic beverages have on your IBS will depend on how sensitive you are to alcohol. Also, some drinks (such as beer) may worsen your symptoms more than others due to their gluten content. Many IBS sufferers report a significant improvement in their IBS symptoms after giving up alcohol altogether.

How to Tell if Alcohol is an IBS Trigger

The effect alcohol has on your IBS symptoms will depend, to some degree, on how much you drink.

  • Moderate alcohol intake is considered to be no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.
  • For women, binge drinking means having four or more drinks in one sitting.
  • For men, binge drinking means having five or more drinks in one sitting.
  • Heavy drinking means drinking eight or more drinks a week for women and 15 or more drinks a week for men. (ODPHP, 2019)

As an IBS sufferer, you should keep a record of what you eat and drink and how much. Keeping a food and drink journal can help you understand which foods and beverages can trigger a flare-up.

If you’re uncertain whether alcohol worsens your symptoms, consider eliminating it from your diet. Once your symptoms have stabilized, try drinking a small amount of alcohol. You can also try different kinds of alcohol at different times. You may find that some are more tolerable than others.

Drinking Alcohol With IBS

Whether you drink alcohol or not is a personal decision. If you do notice that alcohol triggers or worsens your symptoms, you may want to eliminate it. This could improve your IBS and protect you from other alcohol-related diseases. If you drink, here's how to reduce the risk of exacerbating your IBS symptoms.

Drink no more than one glass of alcohol per day.

When you drink alcohol drink plenty of water as well to stay hydrated. Water may also reduce the risk of alcohol irritating your stomach lining.

Eat a meal before you drink alcohol.

This may also protect your stomach lining from irritation.

Drink slowly.

Should you decide to have more than one drink, drink slowly to give your body time to process the alcohol.

Choose when and where to drink.

If you do decide to drink alcohol, it may also help to consider the right time to do so. For example, you may find it more comfortable to drink at home, where you are close to your own bathroom.

Always be aware of the consequences of how alcohol may affect your IBS. Drink responsibly.`

Alcohol Use and FODMAPs

FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.

FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates found in many common foods. Medical experts believe that FODMAPs contribute to IBS symptoms. (Healthline, 2018)

When FODMAPs reach your small intestine and colon, they ferment and are digested by bacteria living there. The type of gut bacteria that eat FODMAPs produce hydrogen. This can cause abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and constipation. FODMAPs can also draw fluid into the intestines, which can cause diarrhea.

Research has found that IBS sufferers who choose foods and drinks low in FODMAPs notice a significant improvement of symptoms.

Some drinks are higher in FODMAPs than others. Knowing the drinks high in FODMAPs can help you identify which types of alcohol you may want to avoid.

  • Rum is considered to be very high in FODMAPs because it is rich in fructose.
  • Be careful mixing your drinks with fruit juice. Fruit juices are often high in FODMAPs. Cranberry is considered a safe fruit-juice choice.
  • Low FODMAP alcoholic drinks include beer, red and white wine, whiskey, gin, and vodka.

It's also important to know which foods are low, and high, in FODMAPs, in case these foods trigger your IBS symptoms.

Foods which are high in FODMAPs include:

  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Fruit juice
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Cream
  • Buttermilk
  • Split-peas
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Honey
  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Mushrooms

Foods which are low in FODMAPs include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Meat, seafood, poultry
  • Most herbs and spices
  • Lactose-free dairy products
  • Bell peppers
  • Kale
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Corn
  • Oats

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Research Citations

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