We have all had our share of stomach aches, but IBS takes that pain to the next level, and makes it never ending. I know from my own experiences the fear of not wanting to eat or drink anything, just to avoid the discomfort. So today I’m diving into tea and IBS, so you can choose what to brew with confidence, and understand the science behind it!
- What is IBS anyway?
- Is Tea Good (or Bad) for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
- Can Tea Trigger IBS?
- Best Teas to Drink for Relief From IBS Symptoms
- Is Chamomile Good for IBS?
What is IBS?
IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a separate disorder from IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) (Herndon). It is a functional disease that is not solely psychological, but the brain certainly does play a role due to the gut-brain connection (IFFGD).
A “functional disease” is one that most certainly exists, but is difficult or impossible to detect even with examination and tests. (This stands in contrast to “structural diseases” which are easily detected and “psychosomatic diseases” which are caused by psychological illness.)
Consisting of symptoms such as constipation, cramping, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and gas, the original belief was that IBS was due to abnormal brain–gut interactions, visceral hypersensitivity (your organ is overly sensitive), altered gut motility, and psychological stressors (anything from a stressful day at work to trauma) (Herndon).
However, new evidence is emerging suggesting that other potential causes of IBS may include changes in the gut immune activation (the gut microbiome is a major contributor to our natural and adaptive immunity!), gut microbiome, and intestinal permeability (read: Leaky Gut Syndrome) (Menees, Zheng).
To learn more about our gut microbiome and where tea fits into it, read:
Tea & Your Microbiome: Is tea good for your gut health?
IBS & Gut Flora
These microbes (“good” bacteria) play a critical role in normal gut health and development, as well as in the development and function of the intestinal immune system (Menees).
When they become imbalanced through environment/lifestyle or they start to grow in the wrong area of the intestinal tract (known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO) IBS symptoms may occur (though they still aren’t sure if SIBO is a cause or result of IBS - it appears cyclic). Imbalances can also lead to inflammation in the gut (IFFGD).
Successful treatment includes probiotic and prebiotic (the fiber that probiotics “eat”) treatment, though be warned: prebiotic treatment initially caused a worsening of symptoms before improvements were seen (Menees)!
Comorbidities: Depression, Anxiety, and IBS
Patients often have IBS and psychological distress such as depression and anxiety. Research has found that depression and IBS share similar abnormalities in disease such as gut flora imbalance (dysbiosis), gut immune activation, and altered intestinal permeability. The microbiota is also a key player in mental health! Read more about that here.
All that said, while proper diet and intestinal gut flora may be beneficial, what about tea and those uncomfortable symptoms? We understand you want relief and you want it now!
Is Tea Good (or Bad) for IBS?
Depends on the tea. Remember that stuff about gut flora? The non-beneficial bacteria (when in a state of overgrowth) love sugar.
So, sugar-sweetened teas? Not so great. Try adding honey or monk fruit sweetener and opt for brewing your own instead of buying pre-bottled tea.
When tea has been bottled, antioxidants break down over time so there ends up being little nutritional value. The exception would be mint or lavender tea, as the menthol and camphor present will help soothe GI distress and both remain present in the bottled beverage (GI Society, Rivera).
Most herbal teas should pose no issue with IBS. However, caffeine and tannin-containing beverages like coffee, and large amounts of matcha and green and black teas may cause irritation due to those constituents (Koochakpoor).
While we do have some blanket foods and beverages to avoid (dairy, gluten, fructose, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol) due to biodiversity (we are all unique) other triggers may vary (Van Vorous, MacDermott).
Can Tea Trigger IBS?
In a study on polyphenols and IBS, it was found that quality of life scores for symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation increased for those using C. sinensis (Roudsari). Other polyphenol-containing interventions such as Aloe vera improved quality of life scores.
In another study, coffee was found to increase risk for IBS development, as well as a relationship between coffee/caffeine consumption and symptom severity in overweight and obese participants (Koochakpoor).
In short, it would appear that whether the beverage is tea or coffee, the issue is the caffeine content. Caffeine will trigger IBS symptoms. So is green tea good for IBS? The answer is a bit grey. Teas from C. sinensis are anti-inflammatory and contain a wealth of polyphenols (Roudsari).
Caffeine tolerance and quantity vary by individual so this may take some trial and error. Self-reports on IBS forums suggest that decaffeinated options are a safe alternative.
Best Teas to Drink for Relief From IBS Symptoms
All the teas I list below are naturally caffeine free, and so can be enjoyed anytime during the day or night. I’ve written a lot about each of these teas in other blog posts, so have given links below each in case you want to learn more.
Safe and effective (Alammar). This herb is antispasmodic, meaning it can help reduce cramping and imbalanced bowel motility. It also has pain relieving effects due to this quality (GI Society). One study found that it desensitizes the pain sensors and nerve fibers (which become hypersensitive during symptom flares) (GI Society).
Another study found it was more effective than fiber, antispasmodic medications, and tricyclic antidepressants (Roudsari). Peppermint is anti-inflammatory and affects serotonin (Roudsari).
Anti-inflammatory and with a rich history for relieving GI symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, cramps, gas, and others, it seems like a great intervention for IBS (Bode, Whelan).
One very small study found it reduced IBS symptoms, but didn’t differ greatly from placebo (Van Tilburg). In an animal study it reduced symptoms of diarrhea, potentially through blocking gut inflammation (Zhang).
Photo is of our Pep You Up Pure Thai Ginger, using coarse-cut Thai dried ginger root. Click image to learn more!
➔ Tea Blending Guide: 8 Blend@Home Herbals for Health: Ginger
Red bush tea or Rooibos was investigated in a colitis model (Colitis is an IBD / Irritable Bowel Disease, and is a disease with similar symptoms to IBS, but it can cause permanent inflammatory damage (C&CF). It has different causes, though microbiota are still implicated).
In the study, rooibos decreased gut inflammation, which makes it potentially promising for IBS (Baba). The lack of caffeine and low tannin content makes it a great black tea substitute, too!
Photo is of our 'The Purist' Organic Red Rooibos, using Superior Grade Organic Rooibos. Click image to learn more!
➔ Rooibos vs. Honeybush: What's the Difference?
Lavender does not appear to have been researched as an intervention for IBS. However, it is a member of the mint family, is soothing and useful for psychological distress such as depression and anxiety, and it contains camphor which is antispasmodic (Astudillo), so I have included it here.
Photo is of our Relaxing Pure French Lavender, using pure lavender blossoms from France. Click image to learn more!
➔ Tea Blending Guide: 8 Blend@Home Herbals for Health: Lavender
This study by the National Research Center in Egypt asserts that moringa may act as a prebiotic (Elabd). It demonstrated gut-modulating actions by reducing pathogenic bacterial growth and increasing some strains of probiotics. I know that sounds super sciencey!
A super simplified summary is that moringa seemed to boost amounts of the good bacteria in the gut and reduce the bad bacteria. Nice!
Photo is of our Superior Organic Moringa Tea Powder, made using Pure Organic Moringa Powder (finely ground) from small batch production in India. Click image to learn more!
Is Chamomile Good for IBS?
If you follow a low FODMAP diet (an elimination diet which temporarily removes certain gut-irritants), then chamomile is not recommended. However, if you aren’t following a low FODMAP diet, then the calming and anti-spasmodic qualities of chamomile may help ease some gastrointestinal symptoms, especially if they are exacerbated by stress (Metropulos).
➔ Why Is Chamomile Calming? So Much More Than a Sleep Tea (Part 1)
Note from the Herbalist...
Tummy troubles are a problem most of us have dealt with at some point or another - I have a long-running challenge with IBD, an autoimmune condition, and just about everyone I, Vientiene and Elizabeth know seem to have had some stomach issues either now or in the past.
While the typical first steps with IBS are to cut out various food triggers, it’s a lot more pleasant to add in herbal teas that may help; we all like to add something new and delicious to our diets, and it can take the sting out of quitting coffee, cheese, dessert and booze! I hope the above herbal teas I’ve listed are useful, and are the next step in your journey towards a happy, healthy tummy, with the pain of IBS remaining only as a distant memory.
Good luck and happy steeping!
About the Author
Stephany Morgan (MSc Complementary and Alternative Medicine) is a herbalist, professor, and healthcare professional. After earning her BS in Psychology and Pre-Nursing from Rochester College with a minor in General Science she began her formal pursuit of natural medicine.
Stephany went on to earn her MSc in Complementary Alternative Medicine at the American College for Healthcare Sciences (ACHS), where she focused her studies on Herbal Medicine and Nutrition. Most recently, she completed her Graduate Certification in Nutrition from ACHS in 2020. She is currently a professor at White Earth Tribal and Community College (WETCC) in Minnesota as part of a pilot project with Lead for America.
This week's featured teas are...
Peppermint Stick Chamomile Looseleaf Blend
Minty fresh, floral and sweet: this peppermint-Chamomile blend will put you in a cozy mood with one sip. Anti-inflammatory properties of Chamomile will help calm and relax, and the peppermint will help calm any tummy upsets or IBS misery
$6.00 for a 1oz bag with Free US Shipping
Intro to Rooibos & Honeybush Organic Bundle
Never tried rooibos or honeybush before? Start here! These 3 high quality organic grades are the best intro to these South African herbal teas, including the lesser known green rooibos. Pure with no added flavors, and all organic and ethically produced
$18.00 for three 1oz bags with Free US Shipping
For every bundle sold we plant 1 tree! 🌳
Learn more about caffeine:
Are there keto and paleo teas?
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Read more about tea, caffeine and gut health
➔ Caffeine in Coffee and Tea: All You Need to Know
➔ Is Tea, Coffee or Caffeine Good for Your Kidneys? What Teas Are Best?
➔ Tea & Your Microbiome: Is tea good for your gut health?
References & Further Reading for Tea & IBS
Jaime Herndon, 2019. Everything You Want to Know About IBS, Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/irritable-bowel-syndrome#what-is-ibs Accessed 9 September 2021.
IFFGD, 2021. Gut Bacteria and IBS. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. https://aboutibs.org/what-is-ibs/gut-bacteria-and-ibs/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
Zheng, D., Liwinski, T. & Elinav, E. Interaction between microbiota and immunity in health and disease. Cell Res 30, 492–506 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41422-020-0332-7 retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41422-020-0332-7 Accessed 9 September 2021.
Menees, S., & Chey, W. (2018). The gut microbiome and irritable bowel syndrome. F1000Research, 7, F1000 Faculty Rev-1029. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.14592.1 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6039952/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
H.L. Rivera, F. Barrueto, in Encyclopedia of Toxicology (Third Edition), 2014. “Camphor: An Overview”. Science Direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/camphor Accessed 9 September 2021.
Astudillo, A., Hong, E., Bye, R., & Navarrete, A. (2004). Antispasmodic activity of extracts and compounds of Acalypha phleoides Cav. Phytotherapy Research, 18(2), 102–106. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.1414 Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.1414 Camphor: antispasmodic Accessed 9 September 2021.
Van Vorous, H, 2021. Safe Drinks for IBS? Are There Any? Help for IBS. https://www.helpforibs.com/news/safe-drinks-ibs.asp Accessed 9 September 2021.
MacDermott R. P. (2007). Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome in outpatients with inflammatory bowel disease using a food and beverage intolerance, food and beverage avoidance diet. Inflammatory bowel diseases, 13(1), 91–96. https://doi.org/10.1002/ibd.20048 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17206644/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
Roudsari, N. M., Lashgari, N. A., Momtaz, S., Farzaei, M. H., Marques, A. M., & Abdolghaffari, A. H. (2019). Natural polyphenols for the prevention of irritable bowel syndrome: molecular mechanisms and targets; a comprehensive review. Daru : journal of Faculty of Pharmacy, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, 27(2), 755–780. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40199-019-00284-1 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6895345/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
Koochakpoor, G., Salari-Moghaddam, A., Keshteli, A. H., Esmaillzadeh, A., & Adibi, P. (2021). Association of Coffee and Caffeine Intake With Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults. Frontiers in nutrition, 8, 632469. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.632469 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8241212/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
Alammar, N., Wang, L., Saberi, B., Nanavati, J., Holtmann, G., Shinohara, R. T., & Mullin, G. E. (2019). The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 19(1), 21. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-018-2409-0 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6337770/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
Metropulos, M, 2018. Best teas to drink for IBS. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320705#teas Accessed 9 September 2021.
van Tilburg, M. A., Palsson, O. S., Ringel, Y., & Whitehead, W. E. (2014). Is ginger effective for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome? A double blind randomized controlled pilot trial. Complementary therapies in medicine, 22(1), 17–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.015 From
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3958926/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
Zhang, C., Huang, Y., Li, P., Chen, X., Liu, F., & Hou, Q. (2020). Ginger relieves intestinal hypersensitivity of diarrhea predominant irritable bowel syndrome by inhibiting proinflammatory reaction. BMC complementary medicine and therapies, 20(1), 279. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-020-03059-3 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32928188/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
Bode AM, Dong Z. The Amazing and Mighty Ginger. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 7.Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/ From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
Whelan, R, 2011. Medical Herbalist: Ginger Monograph. R. J. Whelan Ltd.
https://www.rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/ginger.html Accessed 9 September 2021.
C&CF, 2021. IBS vs IBD. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. https://www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/what-is-ibd/ibs-vs-ibd Accessed 9 September 2021.
Baba, H., Ohtsuka, Y., Haruna, H., Lee, T., Nagata, S., Maeda, M., Yamashiro, Y., & Shimizu, T. (2009). Studies of anti-inflammatory effects of Rooibos tea in rats. Pediatrics international : official journal of the Japan Pediatric Society, 51(5), 700–704. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-200X.2009.02835.x From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19419525/ Accessed 9 September 2021.
Elabd, E., Morsy, S. M., & Elmalt, H. A. (2018). Investigating of Moringa Oleifera Role on Gut Microbiota Composition and Inflammation Associated with Obesity Following High Fat Diet Feeding. Open access Macedonian journal of medical sciences, 6(8), 1359–1364. https://doi.org/10.3889/oamjms.2018.313
From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6108815/ Accessed 9 September 2021.