Does Milk Help Acid Reflux? What You Need To Know
Some evidence indicates that milk’s high calcium and protein levels may help reduce symptoms associated with GERD and heartburn.
Most people suffer from occasional acid reflux or heartburn from time to time, particularly after eating greasy foods or a large meal late at night. These uncomfortable symptoms can keep you awake at night, making it difficult to get the sleep you need.
If you’re looking for a home remedy, the answer may be found in your refrigerator. Does milk help acid reflux?
What Is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux, sometimes referred to as heartburn, is a condition that occurs when acid from the stomach flows backward into the esophagus. Most people experience acid reflux occasionally, such as after eating a particularly large, heavy, or spicy meal, but acid reflux can also be experienced on a chronic basis.
Chronic acid reflux is often referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. You may be diagnosed with GERD if you experience mild acid reflux at least twice per week or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week.
Common signs and symptoms of acid reflux and GERD include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- A burning feeling in the center of the chest (known as heartburn), usually after eating or when lying down
- Spitting up food or a sour liquid (bile)
- Chest pain
- Feeling a lump in the back of the throat
Acid reflux and GERD are more commonly experienced at night, when lying down, or after eating a particularly large or heavy meal. Some people may experience acid reflux when particularly active or when bending over due to a relaxed esophageal sphincter.
Chronic acid reflux may lead to other health conditions, including:
- Chronic cough
- Disrupted sleep
- New or worsening asthma
Most people can manage occasional acid reflux or mild GERD by using over-the-counter medications, such as Pepcid (which we use in our Hangover Relief treatment), and making lifestyle changes. However, people with more severe GERD may need a prescription medication or even surgery.
Some people try eating or drinking certain foods or beverages, such as milk, to help minimize their symptoms.
Does Dairy Affect Acid Reflux?
If you’ve talked to your Provider about acid reflux, you’ve likely heard that some foods should be avoided or minimized to prevent the condition. That’s because certain foods weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, which seals off the stomach and prevents the contents from backing up into your esophagus. When this sphincter is weakened, it is easier for acid to enter the esophagus.
Foods known to weaken the esophageal sphincter may include:
- Spicy foods
- Fatty foods
- Fried foods
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, dairy is not explicitly listed as a cause of heartburn under the clinical guidelines for diagnosing and managing GERD. However, certain high-fat dairy foods, such as full-fat yogurt, whole milk, or ice cream, can cause the esophageal sphincter to relax, potentially contributing to heartburn.
If you have acid reflux or suffer from GERD, it may help to try removing some of the foods and beverages above from your diet to see if your symptoms improve. While some people cannot eat any of the foods above without experiencing acid reflux, others may be able to tolerate several.
Try keeping a food diary with the types of foods you eat and the symptoms you experience to determine which foods may be causing the problem.
Does Milk Help Acid Reflux?
You may have heard that drinking milk can help relieve symptoms of acid reflux and help calm GERD, but does milk help acid reflux? The evidence is mixed.
Benefits of Milk For Acid Reflux
There are two primary reasons why milk is thought to help acid reflux: the calcium found in the milk and the protein content of the milk.
If you’ve ever taken Tums or a similar medication for acid reflux, you have used calcium carbonate to remedy your heartburn. Calcium carbonate is commonly used to neutralize stomach acid, making it a popular ingredient in antacids.
Milk is naturally rich in calcium, with one cup (8 fluid ounces) containing anywhere from 21 to 23 percent of your daily value for calcium, depending on the fat content. The high calcium content leads some people to believe that milk serves as a natural remedy for acid reflux, and some studies back up this claim.
A large study of 11,690 people found that increasing your dietary calcium intake reduced the risk of experiencing acid reflux, and milk is one way to increase calcium intake.
Another benefit of calcium is that your body uses the mineral to improve muscle tone. Without enough calcium, your muscles can become weak. People who suffer from GERD are likely to have a weak lower esophageal sphincter, which is the muscle that seals the stomach off from the esophagus to prevent reflux.
One small study found that taking calcium carbonate supplements improved the muscle tone in the lower esophageal sphincter by up to 50 percent, potentially helping to reduce feelings of heartburn.
Another potential benefit of milk for acid reflux is its high protein content. Milk naturally provides about 8 grams of protein per cup, making it an essential source of protein. While protein might not seem beneficial in preventing acid reflux, studies show that people who consume more protein are less likely to have symptoms of heartburn.
While the exact mechanism by which protein helps prevent acid reflux is unknown, increased gastrin secretion seems likely to play a role. The body produces gastrin, which is a hormone that encourages your stomach to empty its contents and contract the lower esophageal sphincter. The faster your stomach empties its contents, the less food and acid may come back up.
The problem with this theory is that the body also uses gastrin to promote stomach acid secretion, which can rise into the esophagus and cause the burning feeling familiar to those with heartburn. As a result, it’s unknown whether additional protein intake helps or exacerbates heartburn.
Problems With Milk For Acid Reflux
On the other hand, it’s also possible that milk can make acid reflux worse, particularly milk that is high in fat, such as whole milk. One cup of whole milk contains 8 grams of fat, and high-fat foods and beverages are known triggers for heartburn. That’s because fat encourages the muscles of the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, which facilitates the flow of acid and stomach contents into the esophagus.
Unlike protein and carbohydrates, which are digested relatively quickly, fats are harder for the body to break down. This delays the process of gastric emptying, which may already be slow in individuals who experience GERD or heartburn.
When your stomach empties more slowly, more food has the potential to flow backward into the esophagus. There is also more pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, which is likely weaker in people with heartburn.
Therefore, drinking whole milk could cause heartburn for some people. The good news is that milk with lower fat content, including reduced-fat and skim milk, does not appear to contribute to a higher incidence of acid reflux.
How Do Milk Alternatives Affect Acid Reflux?
If you’re a milk lover, you might be devastated to find that your favorite beverage makes your heartburn worse. However, there may be some alternatives that don’t exacerbate your symptoms.
One popular alternative to cow’s milk is goat’s milk.
Goat’s milk is more readily digested than cow’s milk and is less likely to cause digestive upset or delayed gastric emptying. It also contains beneficial anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties, making it safe for people with allergies or intolerances to cow’s milk.
If you find that whole milk worsens your symptoms, goat’s milk is likely to have a similar effect. Goat’s milk contains ten grams of fat per cup compared to eight grams of fat in whole milk.
However, almond milk does appear to offer an excellent milk alternative that can help relieve acid reflux symptoms. Almond milk is naturally low in fat and has an alkaline pH, meaning it may help to neutralize the acidity of stomach acid.
While no studies have confirmed the neutralizing effect, no evidence suggests that almond milk makes acid reflux worse.
The Bottom Line
The jury is still out on whether milk helps or worsens acid reflux. Some evidence indicates that milk’s high calcium and high protein content may help reduce symptoms associated with GERD and heartburn. However, the high-fat content in whole milk may worsen acid reflux.
Different foods and drinks trigger acid reflux symptoms, so it’s best to keep a food diary to determine how milk affects your symptoms. If you’re not ready to give up milk, you might try a low-fat variety in order to minimize the potential for triggering heartburn.
As always, consult with your Primary Care Provider if you need additional guidance on ways to find relief for acid reflux, such as possible changes you are considering making to your diet or lifestyle.
Be sure to explore our Program and Membership options that help support your chronic conditions, such as GERD.
Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Gastroesophageal...: Official journal of the American College of Gastroenterology | ACG
Are Diet and Micronutrients Effective in Treating Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, Especially in Women? | National Library of Medicine
Calcium carbonate antacids alter esophageal motility in heartburn sufferers | National Library of Medicine
Total diet, individual meals, and their association with gastroesophageal reflux disease | National Library of Medicine