Milk is an old fashioned home remedy for heartburn. It’s quite possible that if you asked your mom or grand-mom, “Does milk help heartburn?”, they told you that a glass of warm milk will help. And still today, milk is suggested as a natural remedy for heartburn. But can milk actually bring long term relief for heartburn and acid reflux?
What is heartburn?
Heartburn, also called acid reflux, is the burning sensation you feel in your chest as a result of your acidic stomach contents refluxing back into you esophagus or food pipe.
Regular acid reflux causes the lining of your esophagus or food pipe to become irritated and inflamed, and this is what causes the burning or pain in your chest.
Symptoms of acid reflux
Depending on whether you have occasional heartburn or frequent heartburn, your symptoms may vary. Here are some common symptoms of heartburn:
- chest pain, which may be mistaken for a heart attack
- burning sensation in your chest
- pain that might get worse why you lie or sit down
- bitter taste in your mouth
- sore throat
- difficulty swallowing
- feeling like you have something stuck in your throat
- coughing or hoarseness
- upset stomach
Common triggers of heartburn
There are many things that can your trigger heartburn. Common triggers include:
- eating too much
- heartburn trigger foods
- eating too quickly
- lying down too soon after eating
- certain medications, including prescription medications
Does milk help heartburn?
Milk gives you a temporary buffer by coating your digestive tract and providing instant soothing relief for your acid reflux symptoms. Milk also neutralizes stomach acid. However, for some people, these effects don’t last, and milk will become acidic in your stomach. Whole milk or full-fat milk is more likely to give you heartburn than skim milk or no fat milk.
The role of fat in milk and it’s effect on heartburn
The fat in milk helps coat the lining of your esophagus and the lining of the stomach and provides a barrier between that and your stomach’s contents and acid when it refluxes.
Unfortunately, fat is bad for heartburn for the following reasons:
- Fatty foods turn acidic in your stomach. Many people with heartburn have too much acid in their stomach, so milk can worsen your stomach acidity.
- Fat slows down digestion and your stomach’s contents empties at a slower rate. This can give you more severe reflux.
- Fat also relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter or LES. Your LES is the valve between your esophagus and stomach that is supposed to prevent stomach acid and food from refluxing back into your esophagus. When you LES is relaxed, the likelihood of acid reflux occurring increases.
If whole milk or full fat milk gives you reflux, you could try low or no-fat milk, but these are less effective in coating your esophagus and stomach lining, so you need to weigh up the pros and cons for yourself. Low-fat milk and non-fat milk would, however, reduce the likelihood of acid reflux.
How protein may help heartburn
Milk is an excellent source of protein for you. The protein content of milk is approximately 8%.
Another study concluded that protein stimulated gastrin secretion, which is the hormone that makes your stomach’s gastric acid. This helps your LES stay closed and your stomach contents empty more quickly.
Common causes of heartburn are a relaxed LES muscle and food staying in your stomach for a long time, such as when you eat a lot of fat.
So, you may be able to reduce your reflux if you consume some lean proteins in your evening meal, which could be a glass of skim or no fat milk, or small portions of lean meats or fish.
Calcium can help heartburn
Milk is a rich source of calcium and one glass of milk (8oz or 245mL) provides you with 21-23% of your daily calcium requirement.
A large study showed that people with a high dietary intake of calcium were less susceptible to GERD, but more research needs to be done in this area to understand why this happens.
Your body also needs calcium for good muscle tone. Heartburn and GERD sufferers often have a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Your whole digestive tract contains muscles which are responsible for peristalsis, which is a wave like muscle movement that keeps moving food along.
Alternative sources of calcium if milk gives you heartburn
While milk and dairy foods are considered the best way for you to get the calcium your body needs, if you are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy, you may need to find another source of calcium.
Other sources of calcium include:
- calcium fortified foods such as plant based milks, breads, cereals and juices
- seeds such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds and chia seeds
- sardines and canned salmon
- beans and lentils
- leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens and kale
You can find out how much of these and other foods you need to consume to get enough calcium to meet your recommended daily allowance.
Calcium carbonate is the type of calcium found in calcium fortified foods. It’s also a common ingredient in calcium supplements and antacids. Calcium carbonate has a neutralizing effect on stomach acid and therefore helps you to prevent reflux.
Calcium carbonate is not as easily absorbed by your body as calcium from dairy foods such as milk, so if you can tolerate dairy products, it’s a good idea to include them in your diet.
A small study found that taking chewable calcium carbonate tablets improved peristalsis and acid clearance, which helps your digestive process and reduces the incidence of heartburn. More research needs to be done for the results to be significant.
So, does milk help heartburn?
Everybody has different heartburn trigger foods, and it’s important you find out what yours are so you can avoid those foods. While there are some common trigger foods, there is usually no need for you to avoid foods that don’t give YOU heartburn.
Nutritionally, milk is very good for you, so if it doesn’t give you heartburn, then keep it in your diet. Calcium in milk helps keep your bones strong and your muscles functioning properly. And the protein in milk may help your digestion and keep heartburn at bay.
The fat content in milk is what may give you heartburn. While the fat in milk helps coat your esophagus and stomach lining and protect it from gastric acid in the short term, milk can turn acidic in your stomach, relax your LES and make your body digest food more slowly. All of these factors may cause acid reflux.
FAQs about milk and heartburn
Does warm milk or cold milk help heartburn more?
Milk, when had warm, goes to your stomach and neutralizes the acid there, so it could control heartburn and indigestion.
On the other hand, cold milk has the same effect as warm milk in your stomach, but on the way to your stomach, it has a cooling and soothing effect on your esophagus.
Unfortunately for many, the effect is temporary. While the fat in milk coats your esophagus and stomach lining and protects it from gastric acid in the short term, milk can turn acidic in your stomach, relax your LES and make your body digest food more slowly. All of these factors may cause acid reflux.
If you do get heartburn from whole milk, try skim milk or no fat milk. Less fat means it is less likely to give you heartburn.
Does milk neutralize acid?
Initially, milk does neutralize stomach acid, but if you’ve read about food triggers for heartburn and acid reflux, you will know that cow’s milk, and generally all dairy, fall under the acidic foods category.
Whole milk contains quite a lot of fat, and fatty foods slow digestion and can cause undigested foods to reflux back up into your esophagus.
So, whatever temporary relief the milk gives you, soon after it forms acid in your stomach, it may make things worse.
So milk, for some people, is at best a temporary relief for heartburn. .
Is goat’s milk good for acid reflux?
Goat’s milk is more digestible than cows milk, however it does have a higher fat content. Goat’s milk contains about 11 grams of fat per cup compared to cow’s milk’s 8 grams of fat. Low fat or no fat goat’s milk may be a good option to try if fatty foods trigger your reflux.
Just remember that low fat and reduced fat milk will not coat your
Raw goat’s milk is low acid forming and is good for acid reflux. However, most goat’s milk you buy has been pasteurized and is slightly acidic. Acidic foods and drinks are not good for people with acid reflux, heartburn or GERD.
So, if you can get your hands on fresh raw goat’s milk, you may have a good alternative to cow’s milk.
Should I give up milk if I have heartburn?
You don’t need to give up milk if it doesn’t give you heartburn.
Milk, or more specifically the fat in the milk, may worsen your GERD and heartburn symptoms. So, it’s a good idea to try drinking fat free or skim milk in MODERATION. Less fat almost always means you’ll have less heartburn. However, skim milk or no fat milk will not provide a protective coating on your esophagus and stomach lining like whole milk, or full-fat milk does.
People with heartburn are usually advised to eat smaller meals. And this includes a number of snacks in between meals. For one of these snack-times you can try having a small glass of fat-free or skim milk. Drink slowly, and do not gulp your milk down as this can cause acid reflux.
Try having a small amount of no-fat or skim milk (start with 2 oz) once or twice a day for a few days. And if you are free of heartburn symptoms, then you can gradually add more milk to your diet.
It is important to note that GERD, heartburn and acid reflux, particularly in infants, can be confused with cow’s milk allergy or lactose intolerance. Both conditions have similar symptoms and should be investigated by medical professionals if symptoms continue.
Is yoghurt good for heartburn?
Natural yoghurt with probiotics may be good for heartburn sufferers. Like milk, yoghurt will provide short term relief. According to Harvard Health Publishing, probiotics, specifically acidophilus, in yoghurt can:
- improve overall digestive health
- help fight infections
- reduce inflammation.
If you can’t tolerate full fat natural yogurt, try low-fat yogurt.
What are some plant based alternatives to dairy milk?
If you can’t tolerate cow’s milk, there are other other options you can try to stop heartburn and acid reflux. Just remember that cow’s milk alternatives do not have the same nutrient makeup as cow’s milk. These are some good options to try:
- almond milk – it’s alkaline and it neutralizes stomach acid, lactose free and usually fortified with calcium.
- soy milk – it contains about half the fat of cow’s milk
Home remedies for heartburn relief
These home remedies may give you heartburn relief:
- eat small meals
- avoid common trigger foods (unless you can tolerate them)
- make lifestyle changes such as suitable regular exercise or meditation to reduce stress
- lose weight if you are obese
- try natural remedies
- change your sleep position if you get heartburn at night
- avoid alcohol and smoking