For those living with IBD, it can be quite difficult to figure out what foods trigger your symptoms, as when in a flare, it can seem like just about everything does. However, there are a few things that are known to worsen symptoms in those with IBD (as well as those who don’t have IBD) and alcohol is definitely on that list. In this article, we will discuss the role that alcohol plays for those living with IBD. We will also answer some commonly asked questions about triggers and IBD so that you can discuss with your doctor or dietician and decide what is best for you.
Note: This is not medical advice. Please make sure to consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.
Is there a relationship between the consumption of alcohol and the worsening of IBD symptoms?
The answer to this question may be a bit frustrating, but the true answer is: there can be.
People react to the consumption of alcohol (and other substances and foods) differently. What irritates one person, may not irritate another. Some people may be able to consume a certain amount of alcohol and not suffer any side effects of consequences. However, alcohol does lead to an increase of inflammation in the body, which could make symptoms relating to IBD inflammation worse.
Also, it’s possible that certain types of alcohol may trigger someone, while others produce no effects. For example, you may be able to consume spirits with no problem, but experience severe pain and gastrointestinal discomfort from things like beer. Alcohol as a whole does not bring a lot of health benefits and therefore if you are unsure about its impact on your Crohn’s and Ulcerative colitis, it’s best to avoid/reduce your intake of alcohol. If you are not currently a drinker and you live with IBD, it’s probably best not to start now. If you do drink and live with IBD and experience negative effects, check in with your doctor to see if stopping drinking would be a good decision for you.
Overall, alcohol is not necessary for a well-balanced diet and can impact your overall health in negative ways. It is suggested that people stick to a moderate intake of alcohol if they choose to consume it, and do not drink excessively.
How do I figure out if alcohol is a trigger for me?
One way to discover patterns of what may be triggering your IBD symptoms, is to keep a food diary. In this food diary, it would be vital to not only note what food you ate, but how you felt afterwards. If you are able to do this consistently, you will figure out what foods seem to cause you uncomfortable symptoms, and which foods seem to keep you feeling well.
It’s important to note that when you are in a flare, it may feel like everything you consume causes you discomfort. It’s important during a flare to not cut out too much of what you eat, as you may remove foods that are providing you with important nutrients that you need. You may even find that your ‘safe foods’ are causing you discomfort during a flare. Be kind to yourself and patient with your body. Make sure to reach out to your doctor to see the best route to take with food if you are struggling.
What are commonly known triggers for IBD symptoms?
There are some common triggers for IBD symptoms that affect some – not all – people living with IBD. It is important to never cut out entire food groups or individual foods in general without consulting your doctor or dietician.
Some common triggers include…
It is often recommended that people living with IBD should avoid caffeine, despite the fact that there isn’t a lot of evidence showing that it worsens people’s symptoms. However, there are different ways in which caffeine may negatively impact someone. For example, caffeine is a diuretic, and when you consume more caffeine, you urinate more. This can lead to dehydration, and for those with IBD who may suffer from diarrhoea, it can cause many problems. Another way that caffeine can negatively impact someone with IBD is that it can cause acid reflux, which can worsen gastrointestinal symptoms. Additionally, caffeine can stimulate your bowels activity, increasing bowel movements which may be frustrating to those already struggling with their movements. These are only a few ways that caffeine can negatively impact one’s health when living with IBD.
2. Dairy products
Dairy is a common trigger for gastrointerstinal discomfort for those with and without IBD. Lactose intolerance has been shown to be associated with both Crohn’s and UC, however the reasons behind this relationship is not very clear/isn’t known yet. If you experience discomfort after consuming dairy, you should speak with your dietician or doctor to explore if there is a relationship between your symptoms and dairy consumption. Although we recieve many nutritional benefits from consuming dairy, there are alternatives that may fit better into your diet so that you can still keep a well rounded diet.
Most nuts and seeds, such as peanuts, cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds (among many others) can be quite hard to digest. Because of this, one’s IBD symptoms can become a lot worse. Some people online have suggested avoiding whole nuts/seeds but sticking to their powder form – although no significant research has shown that this reduces their potential negative effects. Nuts and seeds can also cause bloating, diarrhoea and gas – all of which are uncomfortable symptoms to experience. If you feel that nuts/seeds are causing your IBD symptoms to worsen, reach out to your doctor or dietician to speak about it.
On the other hand, if you have IBD and eat nuts/seeds with no negative effect, there is no reason to stop consuming them unless your doctor/dietician has advised you to or if you suspect you have an allergy to them.
4. Spicy food
There is not a lot of research on the impact that spicy food can have on one’s IBD symptoms. However, as spicy food (such as chillies and pepper) stimulates stomach acid, negative gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramps, diarrhoea and bloating may occur after consuming spicy food. A lot of people with IBD report that their symptoms get worse with spicy food. If you feel this is the case for you, then avoiding spicy food may be the best choice. As always, check in with your doctor/dietician before making any major changes in your diet.
Some other common triggers are high-fibre foods, carbonated drinks among others. As mentioned multiple times in this article, please make sure to consult your doctor or dietician before including or excluding foods in your diet. We hope that this article was helpful and encourage you to reach out to your doctor or dietician should you have any questions specific to your health and care plan.