Does Milk Help An Upset Stomach

In this brief article, we will answer the question, “does milk help an upset stomach?”. We’ll also discuss the effect milk has on an upset stomach, and what things you can eat and avoid if you have an upset stomach.

Does Milk Help An Upset Stomach?

Not quite. Milk can help an upset stomach, but only to a limited degree and for a short time.

Milk can help soothe an upset stomach only if the problem is related to excess acid production causing inflammation in the esophagus (food pipe) or stomach. This is because milk coats the lining of the stomach and to some extent buffers the acid within it. The buffering capacity is the ability of a solution to withstand a drop in pH, even following an input of lactic acid, resulting from activity of lactic acid bacteria. Therefore, in a weakly buffered milk, the pH will drop rapidly, e.g. from 6.6 to 6.0. The concentrations of phosphates, calcium and caseins in milk have a major effect on its buffering capacity (1).

However, milk only provides temporary relief, since it is not a very strong buffer against gastric acid. Also, consuming milk might increase acid production causing you to feel sick again after momentary relief of about half an hour.

Could Milk Make You Feel Worse Instead?

Yes, consuming too much milk to treat an upset stomach could make you feel worse, and there are various reasons for this.

To start, before antacids were introduced, people generally consumed large quantities of milk to manage stomach pain and an upset stomach. However, consuming large quantities of milk to soothe indigestion often resulted in another condition known as ‘milk-alkali syndrome’. 

This occurs due to large amounts of calcium in the body, causing blood to become too alkaline (metabolic alkalosis) and potentially leading to compromised kidney function. Milk-alkali syndrome consists of hypercalcemia, various degrees of renal failure, and metabolic alkalosis as a result of ingestion of large amounts of calcium and absorbable alkali. Cases related to milk-alkali disease have increased because of the wide availability and increasing use of calcium carbonate, mostly for osteoporosis prevention (2).

Secondly, for those who have an upset stomach because of E.coli infection, Listeria, or any other kind of bacteria that causes food poisoning, drinking milk will definitely make their condition worse. Consuming constant little sips of water can help instead.

Thirdly, gulping a glass of milk to soothe an upset stomach if you’re lactose intolerant (unable to digest lactose and dairy products) is a huge mistake. Milk and food made from milk contain a sugar called lactose (milk sugar). Our bodies have an enzyme, lactase, that breaks down milk sugar so it can be absorbed. Some people make too little lactase. Their bodies cannot break down the sugar in milk all the way (3). This can aggravate existing symptoms in a matter of 30 seconds to two hours of taking milk, leading to:

  • additional gas
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • stomach cramps
  • nausea

What Ingredients In Milk Make The Stomach Feel Worse? 

The ingredient which causes milk to unsettle your stomach is the milk protein casein.

Casein is believed to either stimulate the release of the hormone gastrin which regulates the production of gastric acid or directly stimulate stomach cells known as parietal cells to produce acid. Gastrin is the main hormonal stimulant of acid secretion during a meal and is stimulated mechanically by distension and chemically by protein. Therefore, not only the ingestion of milk induces the production of gastric acid in the stomach, but all foods containing protein (4).

Whatever the cause, the result would be the same: excess acidity in the stomach that makes an upset stomach more aggravated. 

What Foods Should You Take To Help An Upset Stomach?

Now that milk is out the window, here are some things that can help your symptoms. Experimental evidence and traditional klowladge say that bitter plants are digestive and help by relieving stomach disorders. The plants that have a substantial body of data in support of their digestion-enhancing activities mainly belong to one of three groups: bitter, aromatic and pungent plants. Amongst the most important we can find ginger, peppermint, aniseed and fennel, citrus fruits, dandelion and artichoke, melissa and chamomile (5).

  • Ginger is extremely helpful for managing nausea and occasional bouts of vomiting. It also functions as a digestive relaxant and has antibacterial properties which help manage infections.
  • Chamomile tea soothes the gastrointestinal tract and also naturally relieves gas and bloating. 
  • Peppermint oil is extremely effective in people suffering from uncontrollable diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Menthol along with peppermint oil can potentially relax gastrointestinal muscles and help reduce painful spasms associated with IBS.
  • Bananas are soft, easy to digest, and contain lots of potassium that is rapidly lost due to vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Starchy, low-fiber foods such as white rice can help make your stool firm and control diarrhea that accompanies an upset stomach.

What Foods Should You Avoid To Help An Upset Stomach?

Here is a list of foods that are a big no-no if you have an upset stomach.

  • Avoid ALL dairy products. They are high in fat which is difficult for the body to metabolize with a compromised digestive system. 
  • Fried foods are also rich in fats and oil and will aggravate the symptoms of an upset stomach. 
  • Skip fizzy drinks and sodas since these are carbonated and will increase gas and bloating.
  • Avoid spicy foods since they will further irritate the lining of the stomach and add to acidity. 

Conclusion

In this brief article, we answered the question, “does milk help an upset stomach?” We also discussed the effect milk has on an upset stomach, and what things you can eat and avoid if you have an upset stomach. 

If you have any questions or comments please let us know.

References

  1. Lutchman, D., et al. Evaluation of the buffering capacity of powdered cow’s, goat’s and soy milk and non-prescription antacids in the treatment of non-ulcer dyspepsia. South Afr Med J, 2006, 96, 57-61.
  2. Medarov, Boris I. Milk-alkali syndrome. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Vol. 84. No. 3. Elsevier, 2009.
  3. Farrell, A; Abbott, JM. Milk Upsets My Stomach. College of Agriculture and Life Scieces, University of Arizona, 2011.
  4. Schubert, Mitchell L. Gastric acid secretion. Curr opin gastroenterol, 2016, 32: 452-460.
  5. Valussi, Marco. Functional foods with digestion-enhancing properties. Int j food sci and nutr, 2012, 63, 82-89.