Group of people cheersing with cocktails, Is alcohol a trigger for IBS

Is Alcohol a Trigger for IBS?

With the holiday season upon us, the influence of alcohol in our lives only continues to grow. But does alcohol sit well with your IBS, or is that glass going to send you running to the toilet?

There’s not a whole lot of research done yet on the effect or link between alcohol and irritable bowel syndrome, but anecdotally around 1/3 of IBS-sufferers self-report that they are triggered by it (myself included).

And when I polled my Instagram community, this number was far higher!

However, since alcohol is often served along with food (and often more indulgent dishes) it can be tricky to differentiate any symptoms from your drinks versus your food.


The effect of alcohol on your digestion

Alcohol can be an irritant to the gut and can cause inflammation. It can reduce your absorption of vitamins and minerals from your food.

By potentially reducing the frequency and strength of certain muscle contraction in the gut, alcohol can also disrupt the digestion of carbohydrates in the small intestine, resulting in more poorly absorbed carbs coming into the large intestine.

Cue bloating, gas, and change in bowel movements. This is the same effect that FODMAPs can have on your digestion.

It also can mean an increased transit time (a.k.a. the time it takes for your food to move from one end to the other), which can result in diarrhea.

Alcohol can also interfere with the working of some digestive enzymes – one of which is lactase. Lactase is the digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose, the milk sugar.

This means when drinking you could find yourself sensitive to lactose-containing dairy products even if you would normally do OK with some of them.

The pattern of alcohol consumption has been studied in terms of its impact on IBS.

While the study didn’t find an association between light or moderate alcohol consumption and next-day IBS symptoms, it did find an association between binge drinking (4+ drinks on one occasion) and next-day IBS symptoms.

Green cocktail in a martini glass, is alcohol a trigger for IBS

Alcohol and FODMAPs

While alcohol can function similarly to FODMAPs in the digestive system, they aren’t one and the same.

However, some alcohol can also contain FODMAPs (so possibly a double whammy on your gut) and warrant some additional focus. 

According to Monash University, the following are high-FODMAP containing alcohols / alcoholic drinks:

  • Cider
  • Rum
  • Sherry
  • Port
  • Sweet dessert wine

Conversely, the following are considered low-FODMAP:

  • Beer (but watch out for gluten if you’re gluten intolerant)
  • Red, sparkling, sweet, white and dry white wine
  • Gin
  • Vodka
  • Whisky

If you’re consuming a cocktail, don’t forget to take the additional elements into account as well for FODMAP content. (Check out the recipe at the bottom of the post for my favourite, festive cocktail!)


Drinking responsibly

In general, any potential benefits from alcohol don’t really outweigh the possible negative consequences. That being said, drinking alcohol is a personal choice, and it’s so interwoven into our social life that it’s understandable if you don’t want to abstain completely!

Just remember to enjoy it responsibly. While your country’s guidelines of alcohol consumption may vary, here in Belgium we recommend (for adults over the age of 18) a maximum of 10 units of alcohol per week, and several days with no alcohol.

One unit of alcohol is equal to:

  • 10g / 12.7mL pure alcohol
  • 250mL standard beer
  • 100mL wine
  • 50mL aperitif alcohol (sherry, port, etc.)
  • 35mL strong liquor (gin, vodka, etc.)

And, of course, remember the general recommendations: avoid alcohol when driving or operating machinery, if you’re pregnant, if you’re under 18 (and/or under the legal age in your country), when doing heavy physical activity, and talk to your doctor if you’re on any medications.


Practical tips for alcohol consumption 

  • Watch out for what you are mixing it with (pop, fruit juice, etc. could all contain FODMAPs or other triggers for you)
  • Abstaining might be the best option for you If you notice an increase in symptoms when drinking alcohol
  • Drink plenty of water: alternate each alcoholic drink with at least one glass of water
  • Consume food along with alcohol (but be sure to consider your food triggers)
  • Space out your drinks over a longer time frame
  • Swap in some non-alcoholic mocktails; no one has to know!
  • Avoid binge-drinking
IBS friendly cocktail mocktail, red cocktail in a glass surrounded by fresh cranberries and rosemary

IBS-friendly festive holiday gin & tonic:

Serves one

  • Ice
  • 35mL non-alcoholic gin
  • 35mL cranberry juice (check the ingredients list for any high-FODMAP additives)
  • Tonic water
  • Fresh rosemary and/or cranberries for garnish

Fill your glass with ice. Add in the cocktail ingredients in the order listed. Top off with your garnishes and enjoy!


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