If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), you already know just how painful a flare-up can be. It can leave you doubled over in pain, and unable to do anything while you’re waiting for it to subside and hoping that the last twinge will fade into the background as quickly as it appeared.
The problem is, trying to predict what will, and won’t cause an IBS flare-up is almost impossible. It’s different for everyone caught in its grip, and the roadmap to identify IBS triggers is usually a long and complicated one that’s entirely based on symptomatic response.
But then, we’re not telling you anything that you don’t already know. You’ve already had to follow your own complicated course, and are infinitely more aware of what foods and drinks will and won’t twist the knife in your gut.
Sometimes it can feel like the whole world is against you, and that your every social engagement is planned based on what might cause your IBS to raise its ugly head and ruin your day.
You’ve also probably heard more than your fair share of alcohol-related IBS woes, and maybe even experienced a few of your own.
And again, trying to get to the bottom of what you can and can’t safely drink without worrying about the threat of pain striking at a moment’s notice can make it difficult to lower your guard and enjoy a night out with friends, family get-togethers, or romantic weekends away with your partner.
While it’s true that none of us need alcohol to enjoy ourselves and have a good time, it’s nice to be able to know that if you want to, you can enjoy a couple of drinks without having to succumb to all sorts of irrational IBS related fear or anxiety.
So, if you’re ready, it’s time to discover all the in’s and out’s of alcohol and IBS – which drinks you can enjoy and which drinks you should avoid.
Before We Begin, A Word About FODMAPs
Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), the short-chain carbohydrates, or as they’re more commonly known, sugars that can make IBS sufferers’ lives a lot more painful than they need to be.
A lot of IBS distress can be caused by the gut’s inability to digest FODMAPs properly, which can lead to bloating, cramping, pain, and diarrhea, all of which can throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans.
That’s why we will, every now and then, bring them up, to help you to steer clear of any, and all FODMAPs in alcohol.
The Quick Guide To Alcohol And IBS
Before we dive more deeply into the relationship between alcohol and IBS, we thought it best to outline some of the salient points in this easy-to-remember cheat sheet.
If you don’t have the time to read the article from start to finish before you head out for the night, you’ll at least have an idea of what to watch out for, and what you need to be aware of.
Some Booze Is Bad, A Little Can Be Good(ish) – Alcohol can make your IBS flare-up, and the more you drink, the more chance there is that it’ll help to wreak havoc on your gut while you’re out, or the next day while you’re trying to relax and recover at home.
If you’re going to drink alcohol, try not to overdo it. If you can avoid it, that’s always the best course of action.
Avoid FODMAPs – Artificially sweetened and carbonated alcoholic beverages are a strict no-no. Fancy fruit ciders (the only cider anyone should EVER drink is apple as it’s the only fruit that cider can be made from – others are artificially sweetened) and any sort of diet drinks are best left behind the bar.
Trust us, if you don’t want your IBS to flare up, you need to avoid those drinks.
Food And Probiotics – If you’re not already taking them, it might be a good idea to start thinking about probiotics. They can help to decrease your gut’s sensitivity to alcohol and have been known to rescue many a night from the clutches of disaster for IBS sufferers.
- Related article: Probiotics and IBS Effects
And the advice that your parents always gave you about never going drinking on an empty stomach? That’s also good advice for anyone plagued by IBS before they go out for a few drinks with friends.
Make sure you eat and have plenty of water to drink before you head out to a bar.
The Quick Drinking Guide – Let’s talk about (briefly) some of the things that you can drink without having to worry about an IBS flare. Your best bet?
Any alcohol low in FODMAPs, which means red and white wine, vodka, bourbon, and gin or beer. It sounds harsh but believe us you’ll be glad that you listened.
How Alcohol And IBS Interact
Binge drinking isn’t the sort of behavior that anyone should be indulging in. But in a society that’s encouraged to live for the weekend and let it all hang loose for two days out of every seven, it’s an all too common occurrence.
The problem is, if you suffer from IBS at least, drinking large quantities of alcohol is almost like inviting IBS in before it’s even knocked on the door. The alcohol directly affects intestinal permeability and your gut’s ability to absorb and process nutrients.
All the usual IBS symptoms, the bloating, nausea, cramping, and diarrhea can be brought on by overindulging in alcohol.
However, it isn’t just the amount of alcohol that you drink that can trigger a flare-up, there are other factors that can, and often do, come into play.
A Couple Of Drinks
Have you ever wondered how some people can seem to be able to drink all night and others start to feel the effects of alcohol almost immediately?
That’s because some people are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than others are, and the more sensitive to alcohol you are, the more likely it is to cause your IBS to flare up.
Even though there is a generally accepted safe level and legal limit, the only person who can judge how much you should or shouldn’t drink is you.
And those guidelines about how much you should drink, are as follows –
Males – No more than two or three drinks a day
Females – No more than one or two drinks a day
It may sound a little sexist and old-fashioned and seem as though it’s guided by outmoded thinking but the amount of alcohol that is safe for an individual to consume is based on body mass and size.
When consumed in moderation, alcohol can reduce the risk of cardiac disease, stroke, and diabetes, but can increase the risk of all three if it is consumed in excess.
And the aforementioned aren’t the only health problems that you may end up having to deal with if you regularly drink more than the recommended safe amount, as alcohol has been linked to various oral cancers, liver disease, and pancreatitis.
It isn’t just your IBS that you have to worry about if you drink too much, as you could be opening yourself up to a whole host of other potential, and often fatal health problems.
Can Alcohol Cause IBS?
An interesting hypothesis that is becoming more and more popular in certain circles of the medical community is that alcohol might be a root cause of IBS.
A study conducted in China in 2015 overwhelmingly linked alcohol abuse to IBS and found that the participants who regularly consumed alcohol were far more likely to develop IBS than those who didn’t.
That doesn’t mean that alcohol is the de facto cause of IBS, as there are a plethora of sufferers who don’t and have never consumed alcohol.
It just means that the effect that alcohol can have on the stomach and intestines can make some people more prone to developing IBS if they often drink in excess.
The Best Alcoholic Drinks For IBS Sufferers
As we’ve already mentioned, there are a number of different factors that determine which alcoholic drinks can be safely(ish) enjoyed by anyone who suffers from IBS, and while FODMAPs are ultimately the most decisive of those factors they’re not the only one that needs to be considered.
It isn’t the alcohol content of wine that makes it a relatively safe alcoholic drink for anyone suffering from IBS, it’s the low FODMAP content.
Wine isn’t artificially or additionally sweetened, and as such, falls well within the safe parameters if you’re worried about what to drink and how it will interact with, and affect your IBS.
Generally speaking, wine can have a variable alcoholic content, which can measure anywhere between 10 and 14.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), and as such should be drunk in moderation and responsibly, and while a half bottle (330 mL) is considered to be safe for men, the safe level for women is half that amount.
However, while alcohol can be an IBS trigger, the color of wine you prefer makes no difference, as the way wine is made and the alcohol content isn’t determined by color but rather is based on the variety of grape used to make it.
While it’s generally accepted that beer is low in FODMAPs, there are a number of factors that might cause it to teeter on the edge of the relatively safe-to-drink list.
Carbonation occurs naturally during beer’s fermentation process, and even though carbonation can irritate and aggravate IBS symptoms like bloating, different beers have different levels of carbonation.
The same rule, especially in craft beer circles, applies to the amount of sugar in beer, as some contain far more than others do, and the alcohol by volume percentage of beer can differ greatly as well and can be set anywhere from 3.5 to 13%, depending on the type of beer that you’re drinking.
The advice for IBS sufferers generally used to state that beer was one of the few alcoholic beverages that was okay to drink. But with the advent of the craft beer revolution, that advice has been thrown out of the window.
Beer is relatively safe for anyone troubled by IBS, but it might be worth keeping an eye on any symptoms that might materialize, especially if you’re intent on sampling the products of different craft breweries.
At least that way, you’ll know roughly which beer-centric ingredients cause your IBS to flare up, and whether the alcohol content is a factor that comes into play.
Bourbon, Whiskey And Vodka
Again, FODMAPs are really something that you don’t need to worry about with any distilled spirits, as the sugar content in any that you drink is naturally occurring, and for the most part, has turned to alcohol during the distillation process.
That said, you do need to consider the ABV of distilled spirits (which includes Tequila), as it can be anywhere between 40 and 60% (some brands of legally distilled moonshine regularly top 60% by volume). If the amount of alcohol in a drink is one of the things that can cause your IBS to flare up, it might be wise to avoid any and all distilled spirits.
The bad news is, the advice about distilled spirits and the amount of alcohol they contain, also applies to gin.
Even though it’s low on FODMAPs in its purest form, its high alcohol content means that you’ll need to monitor any possible effect or impact that it might have on your IBS symptoms.
Unlike a lot of other spirits, gin is undergoing something of a renaissance, and this means that a lot of distillers have started to play around with the flavor of the spirit. In doing so, have added a number of different artificial sweeteners and sugars to it, which might wreak havoc on your IBS.
You might be tempted to sample the strange and exotic varieties of gin that have suddenly become available. But be sure to keep track of any possible impact that it has on your symptoms and any possible effects that said sweeteners and sugars might have.
The Worst Alcoholic Drinks – The Ones To Avoid
We told you about the best, now it’s time to tell you about the rest, or more specifically the drinks that might, because of their ingredients, ring your IBS bell and invite every single one of your symptoms to come out to play at once. And the two worst culprits?
They’d be FODMAPs and gluten
Fructose – It’s one of the dreaded FODMAPs that we keep referring to and is a naturally occurring sugar that’s found in fruit, mainly apples, cherries, and pears.
Around 30% of IBS sufferers are fructose intolerant, so any alcohol containing this sugar is a big no-no. It’s also easy enough to check. The sugar should be listed in the ingredients, and if it isn’t, be wary of any drinks fermented from the already mentioned fruits.
That means that cider and apple brandy are two drinks that you’ll need to avoid at the office Christmas party.
Artificial Sweeteners – Another ingredient that the world at large seems to love, that disagrees with anyone and everyone plagued by IBS. If the alcoholic drink that you’re about to ingest has the word “diet” printed on it, then there’s a good chance that it contains an artificial sweetener such as mannitol or sorbitol.
If you’re in any doubt, check the ingredients list. If either of those sugars is present or any other artificial sweetener has been included, put the drink down and walk away. Trust us, you’ll be a lot happier if you do.
A Little Fizz (Carbonation) – You know how bad you feel when your IBS makes your tummy feel bloated, swollen, and sore? If you add the gas in carbonated drinks to the mix, can you imagine the crazy way that your IBS is going to react? Hard seltzers may make the bloating worse too!
If you’re not drinking, club soda, flavored sparkling waters, and soft drinks should be avoided.
IBS And Alcohol Safety – A Few Handy Tips
We’re all adults, we’ve all sailed past 21 (well, most of us!), and we all know the basic rules for drinking safely.
Those rules are even more important if you live with IBS. We’re going to quickly run through some of the guidelines that you should be sticking to like crazy glue if you want to enjoy alcohol moderately and make sure that it doesn’t trigger symptoms that you desperately want to avoid.
Listen To The Surgeon General
We know how easy it is to get carried away and have a little too much to drink, but for those of us who suffer from IBS, that warning is a little more pertinent than it is for others.
Alcohol on its own is enough to cause a flare-up, so be careful and follow the surgeon general’s rules. They may seem square and unfair, but there’s a reason that they’re there.
And that’s to make sure that you don’t damage yourself, or your health while you’re drinking.
Add Some Water To The Mix
Okay, we don’t actually mean add water to your drink, that would be a little weird. Unless you’re in France, in which case it’s okay to add water to the wine that you drink at lunchtime.
Don’t ask us why they do it in Paris, we just know that they do. Yes, it’s odd, but each to their own.
What we mean by adding water to the mix, is maybe try drinking a glass of water after every alcoholic drink that you have.
It’ll help to dilute it in your stomach and reduce the chances that the alcohol that you’ve just drunk will cause your IBS to flare up.
Prevention is far better than suffering the consequences of too much alcohol after the fact, isn’t it?
Never Drink On An Empty Stomach
We always thought it was just an old wives tale as well, but it turns out that there’s more than a little wisdom hidden away in this old adage.
The fuller your stomach is when you have a couple of alcoholic drinks, the less chance there is that the alcohol could cause your IBS to flare up.
The science behind the idea has to do with saturation levels, and the more alcohol the food in your stomach soaks up, the less chance there is that it will aggravate the lining of your stomach and cause your symptoms to manifest.
As it turns out, grandma was right and we really should have listened to her.
Alcohol is like any other delicacy, it’s meant to be savored and enjoyed.
The faster you drink it, the more chance that there is that you’ll get drunk, which means that there’s a greater chance that the alcohol in whatever it is that you’re drinking will cause your IBS to flare up.
And besides, in an age where taste is everything and craft breweries and distilleries are trying to infuse their products with a multitude of different flavors, you’ll want to make sure to savor each and every single one of them.
And, if you’ve been to a bar lately, you’ll know just how much alcohol costs these days, and if you don’t want an evening out to burn a hole in your wallet and make your symptoms flare up at the same time, drink slowly.
Savor the taste, enjoy the company of your friends and keep your symptoms at bay. It seems like the perfect solution.
Just Because You Can, It Doesn’t Mean That You Should
Too many people have taken the Surgeon General’s advice as gospel and assumed that because there’s a safe level that you can drink every day, that you should drink every single day.
That isn’t what the advice is there for, and if you’re particularly prone to alcohol causing additional problems, as it does for those of us who suffer from IBS, then it’s wise to ignore the “every day” part of the advice and limit your drinking to every other day or a couple of times a week.
If you’re constantly bombarding your gut with alcohol, you’re increasing the likelihood that it will cause your symptoms to appear, as well as putting yourself at risk from the multitude of other health problems that can be caused by daily drinking.
Just because you can drink every day, it doesn’t mean that you should drink every day.
If you’re suffering from IBS and you’re not already taking probiotics to improve your general gut health, then maybe now is the time to actually start.
A healthier gut means that there’s far less chance that any alcohol that you drink will have an adverse reaction and encourage your IBS symptoms to appear when you least want them to.
Besides, being healthier and improving the way you feel on a daily basis, is something that we all want isn’t it?
Probiotics make sense, no matter which angle you look at the picture from, especially if you suffer from IBS.
The Final Word on Alcohol And IBS
We know, it seems like an awful lot to remember just to have a few drinks with your friends, but you know how painful a flare-up can be and you’d do anything to avoid that wouldn’t you?
So listen to our advice, incorporate it into your routine, and hopefully, you’ll never have to experience any alcohol-related IBS symptoms.
For more food and drink effects on gut health, check these articles out: