In the United States alone, more than 1 million individuals suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Such diseases interfere with the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients it requires, thereby leading to deficiencies. If you are suffering from ulcerative colitis (UC), then you are already familiar with symptoms such as stomach pain, ongoing diarrhea, and bloody stools. While there is no known cure for UC, knowing what foods to eat and what beverages to drink can greatly affect your symptoms. Moreover, there are many effective treatments that can help keep the inflammation under control.
Due to the fact that UC is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, it is best to be aware of any “trigger foods” that could aggravate your gastrointestinal tract. With UC, you lose a lot of water through diarrhea. If you do not replace these lost fluids in your body, you are at risk of dehydration. However, it is not simply about drinking plenty of fluids, but rather drinking the right types of beverages. Water is a must, while beverages such as coffee, tea, and others containing caffeine act as diuretics, which lead to water loss.
A common question asked is whether or not caffeine is okay to consume with colitis. The answer is both yes and no. Each individual with colitis may experience different severities of their symptoms. For some, coffee may not have such a direct effect on their symptoms, while for others, it may cause stomach pain and frequent diarrhea. Below, you can read on to get a better understanding of what caffeine is, how caffeine affects the body, and the correlation between caffeine and colitis.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a stimulant that greatly impacts your body’s central nervous system. It also triggers contractions in the large intestine. So, if you have UC, caffeine does have the tendency to worsen diarrhea. For this reason, it is best to limit your caffeine intake. A few examples of foods and beverages that contain caffeine include the following:
- Energy drinks (Redbull, Monster, and Rockstar)
- Sodas (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Mountain Dew)
- Chocolate and protein bars
How does caffeine affect the body?
Several studies have been conducted, where half of them explained the positive effects of caffeine on certain illnesses, whereas others illustrated the negative effects. Based on the adverse effects that caffeine can have on the gastrointestinal tract, it is best to reduce or eliminate your intake of caffeine if you have UC.
A few negative effects that caffeine can have on your body include the following:
- Caffeine can be addictive and abruptly stopping its intake can cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms such as frequent throbbing headaches, irritability, and nausea.
- Caffeine can cause you to experience uneasiness and/or depression.
- Caffeine can cause you to experience irregular sleep patterns or even insomnia.
What is the correlation between caffeine and colitis?
Generally speaking, some individuals with UC, such as you, may choose to limit their intake of caffeine due to causing or worsening of IBD symptoms. Others, on the other hand, may even choose to avoid it all together due to unwanted side effects.
- Caffeine causes frequent urination, which if you are suffering from UC, can lead to dehydration.
- If you are suffering from UC and mild cases of diarrhea, drinking caffeine can stimulate bowel movements and trigger more frequent and ongoing diarrhea.
- If you are suffering from UC, drinking caffeine can prompt gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and trigger symptoms such as heartburn and acid reflux.
- If you are suffering from UC, drinking caffeine can give you a boost of energy when you are feeling tired. However, after a short period of time, you may experience an “energy crash”, thereby leading you to drink caffeine more excessively.
- If you are suffering from UC, drinking caffeine can stimulate the immune system in a negative way, causing intestinal permeability or a leaky gut.
- If you are suffering from UC, drinking caffeine can diminish your appetite, causing malnourishment and stomach pain.
- Excessive intake of caffeine can speed up bone loss in women in post menopause. This, in turn, can lead to osteoporosis.
- Caffeine can decrease the absorption of magnesium, which plays a vital role in maintaining bowel regularity. Magnesium deficiencies can lead to irritation of the lining of your large intestine.
- Caffeine can cross-react with gluten.
- Caffeine speeds up gastric emptying and if your stomach contents are emptied too soon, it can damage your intestinal tissues.
- Caffeine can interfere with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) metabolism. This process helps calm your digestive system. However, by consuming caffeine, it blocks GABA and disrupts its calming effect.
- Caffeine can elevate the stress hormones in your body (norepinephrine, cortisol, and epinephrine) and interferes with proper bodily functions such as digestion.
For instance, say you were to accidentally fall down on an uneven pavement and scratch your elbow. This part of your body is now agitated and inflamed. With time, the scratch will begin to heal, as long as you take good care of it. Now say that you were to fall down again a few days later, on the exact same elbow at the exact same spot of your injury. Naturally, you will feel a lot of pain. In the case of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, this is the same effect that caffeine can have on the body. The lower gastrointestinal tract is already injured or rather irritated. So by frequently drinking caffeine, you continuously irritate the large intestine. By simply making a few dietary changes such as eliminating caffeine, you can help alleviate your symptoms.
If you are constipated, caffeine can actually work to your advantage. However, if you are suffering from UC, caffeine can mask your symptoms and have more negative effects on your body than positive ones. Research shows that apart from stimulating frequent bowel activity and irritating the GT, caffeine causes sleep disturbances. If you are not getting enough sleep, such disturbances can trigger a disease flare, which can further activate your inflammatory disease. Needless to say, getting a good night’s sleep is very important if you have UC.
For most individuals, one of the most difficult dietary habits to change or give up is drinking coffee. This is only natural as coffee is enriched within our cultural habits and lives. If you drink coffee on a regular basis, yet you feel your UC symptoms are beginning to act up, slowly begin to limit your intake. Rather than stopping caffeine intake all together and risking withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and loose stools, consider drinking coffee in much smaller quantities and avoid other caffeinated beverages. If at one point, you had 4-5 cups of coffee per day, limit your intake to 1 cup per day. Perhaps even give decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea a try. This tactic can help prevent potential or further complications.
If, however, you are concerned about triggering symptoms of UC, then consult with your doctor about whether skipping coffee altogether or finding a satisfying alternative is right for you. In any case, making necessary dietary changes can do wonders for your health in terms of easing your symptoms and preventing recurrence.