Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be uncomfortable, to say the least.
Though not fatal, the literal gut-wrenching sensation of this chronic condition is more than most people can stand.
One thing IBS patients might do to soothe the pain is down more than a moderate amount of alcohol in one sitting.
Does it work?
Perhaps temporarily, but “success” stories are purely anecdotal.
Plus, if you have any psychological disorders that are worsened by alcohol consumption, then you’ve put yourself in quite a pickle.
But what does purely objective, factually based science have to say about the link between IBS and alcohol?
Surprisingly not a lot.
IBS and Alcohol – The Nondefinitive
Alcohol has been an integral part of human history for at least 12,000 years, so it’s pretty safe to say that we’re not going to give it up anytime soon.
There are very good reasons for abstaining from your every-night bender of booze and bourbon, but I’m not here to judge.
As for drinking with IBS, it's hard to give a definitive answer. The science has yet to uncover a strong link between the two.
A group of researchers in 2013 attempted to expose the relationship between alcohol consumption patterns and worsened IBS symptoms in women, but they received some pretty inconsistent results after the one-month trial.
What they did find was that drinking excessively the night before worsened IBS symptoms the day after.
(The real MVPs of the study were the IBS patients who binge-drank in the name of science!)
The Effect of the Effects of Alcohol
So if the link between alcohol and IBS is still unknown, why are people so ready to chew your ear off if you’re anywhere near a bottle?
Believe it or not, their never-ending tirade of harsh words might all be for naught.
In the same 2013 study, the group of women who drank in moderation did not experience a difference in their IBS symptoms.
The problem with alcohol in IBS cases is the effect of its effects.
FODMAPs! You know! Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols! Ring any bells?
FODMAPs are short-chain carbs that, in many people, are hard to digest and can lead to a myriad of stomach problems, including but not limited to flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea.
It’s advised that those with IBS refrain from consuming high-FODMAP foods to better manage their IBS symptoms in the short-term. In fact, as many as 86% of patients have shown meaningful responses to their new low-FODMAP diet.
If this sounds like something that interests you, and you got the green light from your health physician, then you might want to try out the low-FODMAP diet.
The Low-FODMAP Diet
The low-FODMAP diet can be pretty hard to follow (thankfully, bacon is not on the FODMAP list), but it’s definitely worth trying if you can’t stomach an angry stomach.
You can find a comprehensive list of do-not-eat foods here, but this is pretty much what it’s all about.
Vegetables – garlic, onions, legumes, soy, mushrooms, sauerkraut
Any High-Fructose Fruit – apples, mangoes, dates, figs, prunes, pomegranate
Processed Meats – chorizo, sausages
Wheat, Wheat Substitutes, and Nuts – pastries, pasta, cereal, almond flour
Condiments – honey, stock cubes, high fructose corn syrup, jam, relish
Prebiotic Foods – yogurt, snack bars, fermented foods
Beverages – coconut water, kombucha, tea, sports drinks, rum
That sounds easy enough, right? Just don’t eat honey-and-garlic-infused sausage gravy on top of angel hair pasta with a caramel apple pie bar for dessert and a glass of rum to wash it all down.
Like I said, easy.
Can I Have Any Alcohol?
I feel compelled to remind you of the various health risks of drinking alcohol, regardless of your IBS situation, but to answer the question I asked myself:
Yes. Yes, you can.
Despite being a gut irritant, having IBS doesn’t mean you can’t have an after-dinner cocktail once in a while.
Alcoholic drinks like beer, gin, whiskey, vodka, and wine are fine to drink due to their low FODMAP content. Additionally, you’ll want to stay away from all high-FODMAP fruit juices to mix with your limited alcoholic beverage selection.
You can extend your gratitude to the helpful fellows at Monash University for not only developing the low-FODMAP diet in the first place but also discovering the FODMAP content in many, many types of foods and drinks.
And please, for the sake of those who love you, limit how much alcohol you drink. If you think you’ve had enough, you’ve probably had more than what your stomach can handle.
Until the world receives a definitive NO from researchers, drinking with IBS is not something to frown upon, assuming you’re drinking the right amount of the right type of alcoholic drink that's been allowed by your doctor.
And, of course, moderation is key.
If you or a loved one is suffering from IBS, you’ll want to check with a doctor to see whether going on the low-FODMAP diet is the correct step to take.
It can be a challenge holding back from some of the tastiest foods and drinks, but if it can help douse the heat of IBS flare-ups, it’s worth a shot!