Top Tip No.4 for a healthy gut: watch what you drink

Limit coffee, alcohol and spicy foods



Some of us just can’t function without those two cups of coffee each morning and we look forward to the Saturday night takeaway all washed down with a few beers or glasses of wine but do we know what these foods are doing to our gut?


Alcohol and caffeine are both known to increase the amount of acid produced in the stomach.  They also relax the ring of muscle at the top of the stomach (where the stomach joins to the oesophagus), making it easier for the acid to bubble up out of the stomach, causing those unpleasant symptoms of heartburn.

As well as the above, alcohol and caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea and cola) are also amongst the main triggers of IBS symptoms.  These include:

  • abdominal cramps and pain
  • bloating
  • excessive wind
  • frequent need to go to the toilet
  • diarrhoea and / or constipation

Coffee typically contains twice the amount of caffeine as tea (although it depends on how you like your tea – a good mug of ‘builder’s tea’ will contain nearly the same amount as an instant coffee) and cola drinks contain a little less than an average tea. Then there are all these caffeinated energy drinks that fill me with horror, I am shocked by how much caffeine is in these! (Keep a look out for a blog coming soon about caffeine….)


Alcohol and caffeine both have a particular tendency to speed up the activity of the gut, making everything rush through much more quickly causing diarrhoea; you don’t have to suffer from IBS to experience this though – have you have ever had a runny tummy after a night out drinking or a few too many cappuccinos to get you through a long day?

There is lot of evidence to show that alcohol consumption is linked to a variety of digestive cancers from the throat down to the bowel (particularly mouth, throat, stomach and bowel cancers).

How is alcohol linked to cancer of the gut?

There are a number of theories as to why alcohol causes cancer:

  1. The  alcohol is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde by the liver (as it helps remove the alcohol from our body) or by the bacteria that live in our mouth and gut.  This acetaldehyde can damage the DNA in our body’s cells triggering some cells to divide and multiply uncontrollably, making the cells more likely to turn cancerous.
  2. Alcohol makes it easier for the lining of the mouth and throat to absorb cancer-causing chemicals; particularly those found in tobacco. This is  why people who drink and smoke further increase the damage caused and have especially high risks of cancer.
  3. Folate is an important  B vitamin (B9) that helps our cells produce new DNA correctly. People who drink alcohol tend to have lower levels of folate in their blood and some studies have found that cancers can be more common in people with low folate levels.

The risk of cancer is not just increased for heavy drinkers

We are consuming more alcohol in the home now than ever before.  Cheep booze offers in the shops and the convenience of drinking at home means we often underestimate how much we drink. What is worrying is you don’t have to be drinking excessively to increase your risk of cancer (again, I’ll be blogging about this more on another day).  Regularly drinking 3 units (1.5 pints of  lager or a large glass of wine) a day can still  increase the risk of mouth, throat, oesophageal and bowel cancers.  It also doesn’t seem to make a difference if you drink it all in one go or spread it out over the week (not for cancer risk anyway). Overall, the risk of developing cancer is smaller if you stay within the government guidelines:

  • 2-3 units a day for women
  • 3-4 units a day for men


Spicy food

Compared to alcohol and caffeine, overindulgence of spicy food can be equally irritating to the gut. Eating spicy food more than 3-4 times per week can cause heartburn and stomach ulcers. A chilli chicken madras balti right before bedtime is certainly a great way to fuel the flame of heartburn.


So go easy on the drinks and the spices to keep your gut happy. Not all spices are irritating however; ginger can really help with nausea and peppermint is often used to relax the gut and reduce the spasms associated with IBS; these have been used for 1000’s of years to calm the gut!


Last tip tomorrow 🙂