Effects of Caffeine and Coffee on
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, & Colitis
Reviewed by Meri Rafetto, RD, Theresa Grumet, RD, and Gerri French, RD, MS, CDE.
© 2004 Teeccino Caffé, Inc.
The prevalence today of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases such as
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis among the adult population is linked to causative factors from
both stress and diet. Twenty percent of adults are estimated to be suffering from IBS alone with
symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and constipation and/or loose stools. Certain
foods including: caffeine, coffee, decaffeinated coffee, insoluble fiber, alcohol, chocolate, hot spices,
carbonated drinks and foods high in fat can trigger IBS symptoms. 1,2,3 Additionally, certain food
intolerances may trigger IBS like dairy products and gluten containing grains.
As many as 1.4 million4 people in the United States suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD);
a state of intestinal inflammation so severe that the disease interferes with their nutritional status and
their ability to absorb nutrients in the intestinal tract. A common characteristic of those suffering
from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis is a compromised ability to properly digest and absorb
necessary nutrients, leading to deficiencies. People suffering from IBS, Crohn’s disease and colitis
find that making certain dietary changes can be very helpful to relieve symptoms and prevent
Of all the dietary habits that people find difficult to change, coffee drinking is one of the most
challenging because it is so entrenched in cultural habits and caffeine addiction.5 Withdrawal
symptoms can involve painful headaches, nausea, vomiting, and loose stools.6 People whose health
problems would be ameliorated if they gave up coffee can improve their chance for successfully
quitting coffee if they have both a satisfying alternative and a method to slowly decrease their
caffeine intake to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
The following characteristics of coffee have an adverse effect on the intestinal tract:
Coffee Stimulates the Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract to Overactivity
Coffee produces a laxative effect in susceptible people through stimulation of
rectosigmoid motor activity, as soon as four minutes after drinking. Even modest
doses of coffee can have this effect, whether or not the body is ready to dispose of the
feces, resulting in loose stools. Studies show that decaffeinated coffee has a similar
stimulant effect on the GI tract proving that the laxative effect is not only due to
Coffee Elevates Stress Hormones
Caffeine in coffee elevates the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine (also known as
adrenaline) and norepinephrine.10,11,12 These hormones are responsible for increased
heart rate, increased blood pressure, and a sense of “emergency alert”. Blood is
diverted from the digestive system which can cause indigestion. The circulation of
oxygen to the brain and extremities is decreased and the immune system is
The purpose of this “fight or flight” response is to provide the body with a temporary
energy boost for intense physical activity. With today’s sedentary lifestyle, the
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continual state of increased stress resulting from caffeine consumption can affect
health especially in those types of disorders like IBS and IBD that are sensitive to
stress, particularly because neural control of the gastrointestinal tract is affected by
stress and emotions.13,14,15
The Acidity of Coffee Irritates the Intestines
Coffee is highly acidic and it can stimulate the hypersecretion of gastric acids.
Decaffeinated coffee has been shown to increase acidity to a greater degree than
either regular coffee or caffeine alone.16 Both caffeine and coffee stimulate gastric
acid secretion and decaffeinated coffee raises serum gastrin levels.17,18 A study
comparing the effect of decaffeinated coffee on gastric acid secretion and gastrin
levels to high protein meals, which normally stimulate high acid production, found
that decaffeinated coffee was a more powerful stimulant of acid secretion and gastrin
release than the meals.19
Coffee tends to speed up the process of gastric emptying, which may result in highly
acidic stomach contents passing into the small intestine too soon. This may lead to
injury of the intestinal tissue.20
Coffee Decreases Magnesium Absorption
Magnesium is one of the most plentiful minerals in the body and plays an essential
role in more than 300 cellular reactions. When magnesium is low in the body, it will
be pulled from cells to maintain plasma concentration, so magnesium deficiencies are
difficult to detect. Adequate magnesium is important for maintaining bowel regularity
and magnesium is often used to produce a laxative effect in constipation. For people
suffering from irritation of the mucous membranes within the colon present in
irritable bowel disease, the presence of adequate dietary magnesium is essential.
Magnesium is necessary for stable collagen formation in connective and epithelial
tissue.21 It is also a crucial mineral for the biochemical processes involved in wound
healing,22 making it vital to healing the irritated lining of the colon in IBS.
Caffeine Acts as a Diuretic
The diuretic effect of caffeine causes excretion of fluid through the kidneys, which
can lead to dehydration. Since water is an important part of the digestion and
elimination process, dehydration due to excess caffeine intake may produce hard
stools that are difficult to pass leading to constipation.23
Caffeine Interferes with GABA Metabolism
GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that is naturally produced in
the brain and the GI tract. It plays an important role in mood and stress management
and it exerts a calming effect on the GI tract.
Caffeine has been found to interfere with binding of GABA to GABA receptors,
preventing it from performing its calming function.24 In cases of IBS, ulcerative
colitis, and other lower digestive disorders in which the lower GI tract is already
irritated and often hyperactive, the lack of GABA’s effect only further exacerbates
the problem. In addition to the direct effect on the GI tract, GABA’s role in stress
management is also compromised in the presence of caffeine since psychological
stress is known to be a contributing factor in IBS.25,26
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Based on the unfavorable effects that coffee and caffeine have been shown to have on the GI tract,
anyone suffering from gastrointestinal disorders should consider eliminating coffee drinking and any
caffeine intake from other dietary sources. In the case of IBS, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis,
the lower GI tract is already irritated and hypersensitive. Dietary changes that include weaning off of
coffee and all other sources of caffeine can help relieve symptoms of these disorders.27 Nutritional
professionals can support people with bowel disorders who are changing their coffee drinking habits
through the processing of substituting a non-caffeinated, soothing, alkaline herbal coffee that brews
and tastes just like coffee.
Kicking the Caffeine Habit:
The social prevalence of coffee drinking and the addictive side effects of caffeine can cause
problems with patient compliance. Caffeine-free herbal coffee marketed under the brand name of
Teeccino® helps coffee drinkers replace their regular or decaf coffee with a satisfying alternative.
Coffee drinkers need a dark, full-bodied, robust brew to help satisfy their coffee craving. Teeccino
satisfies the 4 needs coffee drinkers require in a coffee alternative:
Teeccino brews just like coffee, allowing coffee drinkers to keep their same brewing
It has a delicious, deep roasted flavor that is very coffee-like.
It wafts an enticing aroma.
People experience a natural energy boost from nutritious Teeccino.
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Teeccino offers the following health benefits to people suffering from gastrointestinal and lower GI
Beneficial Features of Teeccino
Teeccino Ingredients: 28,29,30,31
Inulin fiber from chicory
Unlike coffee, Teeccino has nutritional
An herb that has long been used for
value, including inulin, a soluble fiber
various diarrhea disorders due to its
that helps support a healthy population
of beneficial microflora
Inulin improves mineral absorption
Has a soothing effect on the GI tract
and has been used to treat diarrhea,
No chemical processing like decaf coffee
gastritis and inflammatory bowel
65 mg of Potassium
Teeccino is a source of potassium, an
electrolyte mineral that is often
Used to treat abdominal cramps,
deficient especially in those suffering
vomiting, and diarrhea.
from diarrhea disorders.
Contains inulin fiber.
Potassium in liquid form is easily
absorbed to help relieve muscle, mental
The high tannin content of almonds has
and nervous fatigue.
an anti-diarrheal effect. Also useful for
Alkaline – helps reduce acidity
treating other gastric complaints and
As opposed to acidic coffee, Teeccino
is alkaline, which is makes digestion
more efficient in terms of enzyme
Mucilages and pectin within the fruit
function in the small intestine.
make it useful for treating diarrhea. In
China, figs are commonly used for
Gluten does not extract into boiling
dysentery and enteritis.
water. Tests show Teeccino is gluten
A good source of potassium.
free although it contains barley.
In Indian medicine, traditionally used
for relief of gastric complaints.
Contain some potassium.
The Pain-free Way to Wean off of Coffee
Start by mixing normal coffee 3/4 to 1/4 Teeccino Herbal Coffee. Gradually reduce the percentage
of coffee over a two to three week period until only 100% Teeccino Herbal Coffee is brewed.
Gradual reduction of caffeine is recommended.28 Side effects such as headaches, fatigue, and brain
fogginess can be avoided as the body gradually adjusts to less reliance on stimulants.
Example: Use the following proportions if you make a 10-cup pot of coffee daily:
1 1/2 tablespoons
3 1/2 tablespoons
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4 1/2 tablespoons
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