Although the research is still new, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be the latest addition to the list of negative effects that smoking tobacco can have on your body.

Decades of clinical studies have shown just how much of a negative effect cigarette smoking can have on our health. Not only does smoking increase the risk of multiple health conditions, but it’s also a leading cause of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and more.

When it comes to the digestive tract, we also know that smoking can negatively affect conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). But what kind of effect does cigarette smoking have on the symptoms and course of IBS?

Below, we’ll explore what the research says about smoking and IBS and share some resources to check out if you’re looking for support to stop smoking.

Even though health experts have studied smoking in the context of many health conditions, there still isn’t much research on smoking and IBS — and the studies that do exist show mixed results.

One study from 2020 explored the association between cigarette smoking and IBS in 400 participants, 200 of whom smoked and 200 of whom didn’t.

The study found that over 73% of the participants with diagnosed IBS didn’t smoke — compared with only 26.3% of those who did. Interestingly, female participants were also more likely to have a diagnosis of IBS than male participants.

However, another larger study published in 2021 analyzed the effects of smoking across three different endoscopy studies in Sweden.

The results showed that the participants who smoked 20 or more cigarettes each day experienced more IBS-related symptoms, such as diarrhea, urgency, and flatulence. The researchers didn’t find any association between smoking and IBS-C or IBS-M symptoms, though. IBS-C means IBS with constipation, and IBS-M means IBS with mixed bowel habits.

Finally, another study from 2021 found that self-reported IBS symptoms in the general population were most strongly associated with two factors: female sex and cigarette smoking.

Researchers still aren’t entirely sure of the exact effect that cigarette smoking can have on the digestive tract. However, initial research suggests that it may have something to do with the effects of nicotine on intestinal cells or the microbiome of the gut.

Cannabis smoking and IBS

Cannabis has the ability to affect almost every part of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract. This is why some researchers believe it may help with IBS treatment. But so far, research into the effect of cannabis on IBS has shown mixed results.

One study found that among people who had inpatient stays for IBS symptoms, those who used cannabis were less likely to need endoscopy procedures, had shorter hospital stays, and had lower healthcare costs.

However, another study found that people with cannabis use disorder (CUD) were more likely to receive a diagnosis of IBS than those without CUD. In fact, statistics from the study suggest that having CUD may be associated with a more than 80% increased chance of having IBS.

If you have concerns about how cannabis use may be affecting your gut health, it’s best to talk with your doctor.

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Without much research to go on, it’s difficult to say whether quitting smoking makes IBS symptoms better or worse.

However, one study published in 2022 explored the frequency and severity of IBS symptoms in 371 people who smoke in Turkey. In this study, 18.1% of the study participants had IBS, with IBS-C being the most common subtype, followed by IBS-M.

The results showed that almost 30% of the study participants with IBS who quit smoking reported a decrease in IBS symptoms, including bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

Even with a lack of studies exploring IBS and smoking, most studies on smoking and digestive health suggest that cigarette smoking can increase the chance of digestive issues.

In one analysis from 2023, researchers found that a genetic predisposition to smoking was associated with multiple gastrointestinal conditions, including:

But when it comes to the effect of nicotine, specifically, there’s one condition that appears to contradict most of the research: ulcerative colitis.

Some studies suggest that nicotine may actually lower the chance of ulcerative colitis and reduce inflammation associated with the condition. However, because of the potential risks of smoking, there’s no expert recommendation to use nicotine or cigarettes as a treatment option.

Resources to help reduce or quit smoking

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. However, in 2021, roughly 11.5% of adults in the United States reported smoking cigarettes.

If you smoke cigarettes and want to quit, here are a few helpful resources that can get you started:

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Smoking affects almost every organ of the body — from the lungs and the heart, all the way down to the stomach and digestive tract. Although research on smoking and IBS is limited, most studies suggest that smoking has an overall negative effect on the gastrointestinal tract.

If you or someone you love wants to quit smoking, there are resources that can help. Also, consider reaching out to a doctor, as they may have information on smoking cessation treatment options — like medications and programs — that can make the quitting process easier.