Is there a link between milk and acid reflux? While some people find relief from acidity after drinking cold milk, others develop digestive issues. Here is why it happens.

Acid reflux is one of the most common digestive issues that people face nowadays. From consuming oily and fried foods to obesity, many causes can lead to acid reflux. Many believe that milk may provide relief if someone has acid reflux or heartburn. However, it may not be a permanent solution. In fact, in some cases, milk may trigger acid reflux symptoms, especially for those with lactose intolerance. Let us understand the link between milk and acid reflux to better deal with the condition.

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux, or acidity, occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest that moves up into the neck and throat, known as heartburn. In some cases, frequent or constant acid reflux can even lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a more serious and persistent form of the condition. Its common triggers include certain foods (such as oily or fried foods, high-fat foods, cheese, whole milk, butter, etc.), beverages (caffeine), stress, and lying down after meals.

Can milk cause acid reflux?

Acidity or acid reflux can stem from various causes, including diet, lifestyle, stress, and certain medical conditions. While there are several home remedies you might find to relieve acidity, milk is one of the most common remedies used to cure acid reflux. However, some people complain of experiencing worsening symptoms of acid reflux due to milk. HealthShots got in touch with Nutritionist Dr Rohini Patil to understand the link between milk and acid reflux.

Is there a link between milk and acid reflux?
Acid reflux attack can cause heartburn as well as abdominal pain. Image courtesy: Freepik

“Milk can temporarily buffer stomach acid, providing short-term relief from acidity. However, its long-term effects may vary,” says Dr Patil. According to the American College of Gastroenterology’s clinical guidelines, the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GRED) do not list dairy products as a cause of acidity and heartburn. However, high-fat dairy products, such as whole milk and yoghurt, can lead to heartburn. In fact, another 2022 study published by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, also found that consuming high-fat foods may trigger or worsen acid reflux.

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Link between milk and acidity

The reason milk can cause acidity lies in its composition. The fat in milk triggers the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax, allowing stomach acid to rise into the esophagus and exacerbating acid reflux symptoms. Furthermore, milk proteins can stimulate the production of gastrin, a hormone that increases stomach acid secretion. While milk may offer immediate relief for some, it can lead to increased acidity and reflux in others, particularly when consumed in large quantities or as part of a high-fat diet.

Acid reflux and lactose intolerance

Apart from high-fat milk, lactose (a type of natural sugar) in milk can also cause digestive issues for those who are lactose intolerant, leading to discomfort and reflux. Dr Patil explains, “Acid reflux occurs when the amount of stomach acid increases, causing heartburn and a burning sensation. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is the inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products, leading to symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhoea.” For those with lactose intolerance, consuming dairy can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms by increasing stomach discomfort and acid production, thus triggering or worsening reflux episodes.

lactose-free diet
If you are lactose intolerant, follow a lactose-free diet! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How to deal with acidity caused by milk?

To manage acid reflux caused by milk, keep these 5 tips in mind:

1. Switch to low-fat milk or non-dairy alternatives (plant-based) such as almond, soy, or oat milk, which are less likely to trigger reflux.
2. Reduce the overall consumption of dairy products to minimise the risk of acid production.
3. Drink milk in smaller quantities to avoid overwhelming the digestive system.
4. Avoid lying down immediately after consuming milk to prevent acid from flowing back into the esophagus.
5. If you are lactose intolerant, use lactose-free milk to prevent digestive discomfort that can worsen reflux.

Keep these tips in mind to manage acid reflux. If you still do not get any relief, consult with your healthcare provider to properly treat the problem!

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