Just as all stimulants seem to affect IBS sufferers harder than those without IBS, tobacco is one of the most extreme. Whether you smoke or chew, tobacco is a powerful gastro-intestinal stimulant, irritant and carcinogen. Because people with IBS have extremely sensitive intestinal tracts anyway, tobacco should be avoided at all costs. But even if you don’t have IBS, the effect tobacco has on your GI tract is severe.
Tobacco has shown to be harmful to the entire digestive system. Two of the most common ailments caused by smoking is heartburn and acid reflux, which are conditions that people with IBS are already more likely to suffer from. Tobacco weakens the sphincter in the oesophagus, therefore allowing stomach acid to flow upward into the oesophagus. Tobacco has also been known to double your chance of developing a peptic ulcer and chemicals in tobacco also hinder the healing of ulcers and make sufferers more likely to develop additional ulcers later in life. The exact increase is unknown but it’s thought to be as high as 10 times as likely. Doctors also believe that there is a link between the development of Crohn’s disease and the possible development of gallstones in tobacco users.
The addictive and poisonous part of tobacco, nicotine, can cause many health problems on its own. Additional weakening of the sphincter of the oesophagus, increased acid production in the stomach and a decrease in the pancreas making sodium bicarbonate, which neutralizes stomach acid. But nicotine isn’t the only problem with tobacco. There are over 400 toxins and at least 43 known carcinogens in tobacco, all of which will hit someone with IBS harder than they would hit a healthy person. A seldom considered side effect of smoking is increased air consumption, which can lead to bloating and flatulence.
And of course, the most common result in long-term cigarette smoking or tobacco chewing is the development of cancer, including cancer of the digestive tract, such as colon, bladder, pancreas, kidney and stomach cancer. It’s not known if IBS sufferers are at a higher risk to develop cancer of the digestive tract, but the additional irritation and stimuli to the body tends to not be favourable for IBS patients.
Tobacco irritates the lining of the intestines, which can cause diarrhoea, intestinal cramping, pain, bloating and gas in IBS patients. Nicotine has been reported to highly increase the frequency of stomach cramps in IBS sufferers. Tobacco use also decreases the efficiency of food digestion and it can also dramatically slow down the metabolism of those with IBS. This can alter bowel movements, which are already a huge problem for those with IBS, and cause bloating. Withdrawal from nicotine can cause both constipation and diarrhoea, again, already a big problem for those with IBS.
So for those people with IBS, sometimes just a small amount of stimuli to the digestive tract can be too much. The effects of tobacco use are universally negative for an average person and can be dramatic for those with IBS. There is no known cure for IBS and treatment options are not widely agreed upon, even by experts. But one treatment everyone can agree on is to reduce or eliminate tobacco use, even if you don’t have IBS!