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Caffeine & IBD: Here is what we know

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Caffeine and IBD

We consume foods and beverages that contain caffeine but do we really know what caffeine is?  In this post we’ll break down what caffeine is, where it’s commonly found, and the relationship it has with IBD. 

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant that affects the central nervous system (CNS).  Caffeine is widely consumed in our society and can be found in a generous amount of foods and beverages.  Coffee, teas, cocoa, and cacao beans contain caffeine in its natural form while it can be added to other products including sodas, candies, and other beverages. 

Research has shown that consuming up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day is safe to have (1).  This is the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee (or matcha). Green tea and matcha tend to be much lower per cup of caffeine – each cup being about a half or a fourth of the caffeine found in coffee – although this varies with how concentrated you make it.

What is the relationship between caffeine and IBD?

First off, caffeine alone doesn’t cause harm to our gut, cause flare ups or inflammation. Which is a huge win for those of us dealing with fatigue with IBD and still needing to do things like work or take care of day-to-day life things. However, like with many things – it can increase some symptoms (in certain doses, and in certain individuals).

Let’s talk about that…

Caffeine can stimulate bowel movements leading to an increase in gastric motility.  This is great for those of you that are more constipation prone. For some, this increased motility can intensify or increase frequency of bowel movements. Some people may also notice other discomforting gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms including diarrhea and sometimes nausea.


When it comes to having IBD and consuming beverages and foods that contain caffeine, studies have shown that coffee is not associated with the occurrence of IBD and that it may even play a protective role in ulcerative colitis (2,3).

In certain studies, patients with Crohn’s Disease reported that coffee increased symptoms compared to patients with ulcerative colitis (4).  Overall, patients with IBD tend to consume lesser amounts of coffee compared to those without IBD due to the symptoms that caffeine can cause for IBD patients (4). 

Chocolate and IBD

Chocolate (especially dark chocolate)  is known for its delicious taste and nutritious profile, including antioxidants like polyphenols, flavonoids, and others.  Chocolate also contains small amounts of caffeine as mentioned previously (found in cocoa and cacao) and sugar. 

Chocolate doesn’t cause an harm with IBD or inflammation- although like coffee some might find it to be a symptom trigger. We do know high amounts of sugar can be an inflammatory trigger with IBD- but there are plenty of great chocolates that are really good and have lower levels of sugar.

Favorite chocolate brands

  1. Hu dark chocolate bar 
  2. Blue stripes
  3. Coco parlor
  4. Theo dark chocolate
  5. Raaka chocolate 

Key Takeaways 

Coffee and other beverages and nutritious food products that contain caffeine can be enjoyed safely by many patients.  Depending on the individual with IBD, it might be better to adjust intake of coffee while experiencing a flare of symptoms and if inflammation is active.  Caffeine is a stimulant which may cause GI discomfort for some.  The other concern about drinking coffee is how it may suppress a person’s appetite.  Appetite is something that many IBD patients struggle with which is why we want to be cautious of recommending this beverage. On the other hand – caffeine can be a helpful coping tool with the fatigue experienced with IBD. It is best to discuss more with your healthcare provider to see if it can safely be a part of your lifestyle.

Personal takeaway from Ashley:

Caffeine is definitely something that can affect everyone differently. For me personally- I’ve never been able to tolerate coffee well however I did find a great alternative for myself – matcha which I love for it’s balanced effect – it has both L-theanine (calming) and caffeine which I prefer since coffee tends to be too stimulating for me. As someone who has often dealt with bouts of anemia- I’ve found caffeine to be a valuable tool for helping me endure lots of schooling and building this business. However, it’s all about finding the right balance for YOU – you know?

Written by: Rebecca Goodrich, MS, RD, LD & Ashley Hurst, MS, RD, LD


  1. Poole, R., Kennedy, O. J., Roderick, P., Fallowfield, J. A., Hayes, P. C., & Parkes, J. (2017). Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 359, j5024.
  2. Karaman, N., Türkay, C., & Yönem, O. (2003). Irritable bowel syndrome prevalence in city center of Sivas. The Turkish journal of gastroenterology : the official journal of Turkish Society of Gastroenterology, 14(2), 128–131.
  3. Ng, S. C., Tang, W., Leong, R. W., Chen, M., Ko, Y., Studd, C., Niewiadomski, O., Bell, S., Kamm, M. A., de Silva, H. J., Kasturiratne, A., Senanayake, Y. U., Ooi, C. J., Ling, K. L., Ong, D., Goh, K. L., Hilmi, I., Ouyang, Q., Wang, Y. F., Hu, P., … Asia-Pacific Crohn’s and Colitis Epidemiology Study ACCESS Group (2015). Environmental risk factors in inflammatory bowel disease: a population-based case-control study in Asia-Pacific. Gut, 64(7), 1063–1071.
  4. Nehlig A. Effects of Coffee on the Gastro-Intestinal Tract: A Narrative Review and Literature Update. Nutrients. 2022 Jan 17;14(2):399. doi: 10.3390/nu14020399. PMID: 35057580; PMCID: PMC8778943.