Alcohol and IBS

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This article was made possible due to an unrestricted educational grant from Nestle Health Science, makers of IBgard.

Alcohol is a known gut irritant, as it can affect intestinal motility, intestinal absorption, and permeability. (3) Alcohol also contains FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), which may trigger IBS symptoms in some people, such as bloating, pain, and gas. (1)

Can you enjoy alcohol if you have IBS?  

There seems to be mixed reviews on this question, with no definite answer.  However, everyone seems to agree that the reason why the answer to this question is so elusive, is  because everyone’s alcohol habits and IBS triggers vary greatly.  While some people suffering from IBS must eliminate alcohol from their diet completely, others can still enjoy an occasional drink.   

Some individuals who give up alcohol completely will experience a noticeable improvement in their IBS symptoms and others who cut back on the amount of alcohol they consume and avoid certain types of alcohol more likely to cause flare-ups, such as beer, will also experience relief.  However, everyone’s sensitivity levels vary and even one alcoholic beverage can be enough to trigger a flare-up. 

An observational study exploring the relationship between patterns of alcohol consumption and gastrointestinal symptoms among patients with irritable bowel syndrome, found that the strongest association between next day GI symptoms came from subjects who participated in binge drinking. Subjects who participated in moderate to light drinking experienced little to no GI symptoms. (2)  

Drinking alcohol responsibly with IBS 

Regardless of what any study says, you need to listen to YOUR body. If one sip of wine sends you straight to the washroom, it is likely better that you abstain from alcohol entirely. Try eliminating it completely and see if your symptoms subside. If your symptoms do subside, see if a drink initiates the return of your IBS symptoms.  If you continue to experience symptoms, even if you have completely abstained from alcohol, the answer will lie within your diet, or your day-to-day stressors.  Work with a  registered dietitian to help you identify your personal trigger foods. Use these tips next time you go out to ensure that you are keeping your health in mind: 

  • The ROME Criteria suggests a decrease in alcohol consumption (as well as fizzy drinks that are used as mixers) (4).
  • Avoid mixers that are high in fat or fructose (fruit juices, regular or diet pop) as they are high FODMAP ingredients that can cause digestive symptoms. 
  • Monash University (1) has looked at alcohol that is both low fodmap and high fodmap, to give you a better idea of what alcoholic beverage might not trigger symptoms. Some low fodmap alcoholic drinks include:  
    • Beer (suggests a gluten-free beer) 
    • Red, white or sparkling wine 
    • Vodka 
    • Gin 
    • Whisky  
  • Make sure to eat before, and during the consumption of alcohol. Pre-plan if you know you’re going to an event where you might drink and ensure that you’re equipped with foods that you know are safe for you to eat.  
  • Count your drinks. Not only does the type of alcohol matter, but the amount too. Try to keep it to one standard drink a day. You can learn about standardized drink sizes here.  

As always, CDHF recommends working a registered dietitian to identify whether alcohol is a trigger for your IBS symptoms. To learn more about low and high fodmap foods, download the Monash app.  

References: 

  1. https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/more-fodmaps/ 
  1. Reding KW, Cain KC, Jarrett ME, Eugenio MD, Heitkemper MM. Relationship between patterns of alcohol consumption and gastrointestinal symptoms among patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013 Feb;108(2):270-6. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2012.414. Epub 2013 Jan 8. PMID: 23295280; PMCID: PMC3697482.
  1. Bode C, Bode JC. Alcohol’s role in gastrointestinal tract disorders. Alcohol Health Res World. 1997;21(1):76-83. PMID: 15706765; PMCID: PMC6826790.
  1. Drossman, D.A., Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: History, Pathophysiology, Clinical Features and Rome IV. Gastroenterology, 2016.