Many people experience symptoms like chest or stomach pain after drinking milk. Common underlying causes are lactose intolerance and milk allergy. However, acid reflux and gallbladder issues are also possible reasons.
What happens in your body when you drink milk?
Growing up, milk was always so hyped up. Adults always said, if you want strong bones, drink a glass of milk every day. But, what happens when you drink a glass of milk?
For starters, similar to other foods, milk stays in the stomach for a while waiting to be digested.
During this period, the enzymes in milk start to denature into proteins. The result of this process is the production of gastric lipase whose size will depend on the fat content of the milk.
After the molecules are broken down, the enzymes go to the smaller intestine, and polypeptides and amino acids are absorbed.
If you are sensitive to milk, however, the process will be a bit different.
Because your body is unable to produce enough lactase, the enzymes from the milk won’t be fully broken down and will be passed to the lower digestive tract.
Of course, this isn’t where it’s supposed to be and that’s why you may experience stomach ache, diarrhea, or bloating.
Why does your chest or stomach hurt after drinking milk?
These are the most common reasons that could cause chest or tummy pain after drinking milk:
- lactose intolerance, milk allergy
- acid reflux
- gallbladder problems
However, some other conditions can also make your chest hurt after consuming milk.
For example, after drinking very cold or very hot milk, you might have a so-called esophageal spasm, which is the painful contraction of the esophagus. It will cause chest pain right after drinking.
It is important to be able to distinguish between cardiac and non-cardiac chest pains. When in doubt, it’s best to consult with a doctor!
Milk allergy, lactose intolerance, and chest pain
There are several different names for seemingly the same condition: milk causes you chest or belly troubles.
While the symptoms might look similar, the underlying causes are different:
- Milk allergy: It is an abnormal response of the immune system to the proteins in the milk.
- Lactose intolerance: It is an abnormal response of the digestive system to the sugars (lactose) in the milk.
Stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting can be a symptom of both.
You can consume lactose-free products if you have lactose intolerance. However, you need to stay away from all dairy products if you have a milk allergy.
Can lactose intolerance cause chest pain?
Lactose intolerance might cause digestive problems that can trigger chest pain.
Gas and bloating are common symptoms of lactose intolerance. As pressure increases in the stomach, digestive juices might flow back into the esophagus, irritating the lining of the food pipe.
This irritation – called heartburn – causes a burning sensation around the center of the chest.
Sometimes lactose intolerance can induce chest pain without triggering acid reflux, simply by increasing pressure in the abdomen. In such cases, the typical symptom is a pain in the lower chest.
Can milk allergy cause chest pain?
Chest pain is a possible but not typical symptom of food allergies.
Various body parts might be swollen or inflamed because of the abnormal immune response to the proteins in milk, therefore chest pain might be a possible symptom.
However, people suffering from milk allergy are more likely to experience typical allergy symptoms, such as:
- rashes, hives
- itchy skin, eyes
- swollen mouth, tongue, lips
Milk allergy can have more severe symptoms, e.g. anaphylaxis, which requires immediate medical attention.
Therefore it is important to find out whether you have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance.
Consulting with an allergist is recommended if milk or other dairy products are causing you stomach problems.
Milk and acid reflux
Does milk trigger or relieve acid reflux?
Over the years, there has been no strong evidence linking milk as a trigger for acid reflux. However, high-fat foods have been known to digest slowly in the body and thus worsening acid reflux.
Also, certain ingredients that are often used with milk like chocolate or coffee ease the muscle between the esophagus and stomach. As a result, triggering acid reflux.
Low-fat or fat-free milk is somewhat easier to digest, because of the lower or no fat content. If you are prone to acid reflux but don’t have problems with lactose, such types of milk, or buttermilk might fit into your diet.
Lactose intolerance and heartburn
As mentioned above, the medical community doesn’t consider dairy products as a cause of acid reflux.
If you are lactose intolerant, you may experience symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and vomiting, which may feel like an acid reflux episode.
With that being said, you should also keep in mind that high-fat foods may worsen acid reflux.
The likes of full-fat cow milk, ice cream should be avoided by people with lactose intolerance. A good alternative is plant-based milk, such as the ones listed below.
Avoiding dairy products altogether isn’t such a good idea because you will be denying your body essential nutrients. You can try lactose-free products, maybe buttermilk is a heartburn-friendly alternative for you.
The bottom line is, despite milk not being considered an acid reflux trigger, if you experience side effects, you should avoid high-fat dairy products, and opt for alternatives that offer similar nutrients.
Chest pain and other dairy products
It’s not only milk that might trigger chest pain, other dairy products – like cheese or ice cream – are also possible causes of chest discomfort.
Chest pain after eating cheese
Cheese that is high in fat or lactose is more likely to trigger chest pain. Depending on the type of cheese you eat heartburn, lactose intolerance, or gallbladder problems are the most likely culprits.
High-fat cheese – like cheddar or swiss cheese – can trigger both acid reflux and gallbladder attacks. Try a cheese with lower fat content – like feta, mozzarella, or ricotta – to see if symptoms go away.
The lactose content is another possible source of issues. According to WebMD:
Hard, aged cheeses like Swiss, parmesan, and cheddars are lower in lactose. Other low-lactose cheese options include cottage cheese or feta cheese made from goat or sheep’s milk. Certain types of cheeses — especially soft or creamy ones like ricotta and cream cheese — are higher in lactose.(source)
You can also try one of the many lactose-free and dairy-free types.
Chest pain after eating ice cream
Ice creams have a high fat content, therefore they might trigger digestive problems. Lactose intolerance or milk allergy might also be the cause of chest pain after ice cream.
However, there are some other possible causes of experiencing chest pain after eating ice cream:
- Eating cold food fast might trigger bronchospasm or esophageal spasms. Chest pain is a possible symptom of both conditions.
- Ice cream might contain a lot of additives. Those who are allergic to any of these additives might experience symptoms after eating ice cream.
Buttermilk and chest pain
Buttermilk is actually a great natural remedy for relieving digestive issues.
Buttermilk is a natural probiotic and as such it promotes healthy digestion and increases gastric motility. Both help to fight acid reflux and most other digestive problems.
However, those who are lactose intolerant might experience symptoms after buttermilk.
Milk and right side pain
Pain in the right side of the body after fatty food intake is a common symptom of gallbladder problems. Pain might be experienced in the right chest, shoulder, arm, or neck.
The gallbladder helps in the process of digesting fat. If you are drinking fatty milk and have issues with your gallbladder, like gallstones or infection, then the digestion process might become painful.
Besides stomach pain, the common symptoms are:
- brownish-colored urine
- light-colored stool
If you are experiencing such symptoms, you need immediate medical help.
Full-fat cow milk vs goat milk vs plant-based milk
There are different types of milk, depending on the one you drink, the effects can vary. Let’s look at the three most common types of milk and their benefits.
Full fat cow milk
This type of milk is rich in calcium, protein, and B-vitamins.
The calcium will ensure your bones are healthy, whereas the proteins will aid maintain lean muscle mass.
However, the high fat content might induce digestive problems.
Unlike cow milk, goat milk contains less lactose. It is also more nutritionally dense.
With every cup of goat milk you take, you are downing 168 calories. This is a bit too high if you are on a low-calorie diet.
Nonetheless, it’s an excellent source of protein, carbs, calcium, vitamin D, and fat. Kindly note that the test of goat milk highly depends on the breed and processing.
These days plant-based milks are becoming more popular.
When you visit your favorite supermarket, you are likely to find a line-up of almond, soy, coconut, and cashew milk amongst others.
One of the reasons why you should consider plant-based milk is if you are lactose intolerant.
With these types of milk, you get nearly all the nutrients such as protein, calcium, and vitamins.
It’s imperative that you look at the nutrient content of plant-based milks before buying it. Because there are some which fall short regarding the availability of nutrients.
If milk or other dairy products are causing you chest or stomach discomfort, you might do several things to manage your condition:
- try low-fat or fat-free alternatives
- switch to lactose-free alternatives
- switch to plant-based alternatives and remove dairy products from your diet
If even lactose-free products are causing you symptoms, you should stop consuming everything that contains milk and see an allergologist, as you might have a milk allergy.
You also need to consider the possibility that it is not milk or dairy that is causing the symptoms, but some other ingredient. Fat, sugar, and caffeine are the most common triggers of gastric problems, maybe one of these is the reason for your chest pain and not dairy.
Frequently asked questions
Scientists seem to agree that lactose intolerance does not trigger heartburn. If you are lactose intolerant and consume lactose, you might have symptoms like people with acid reflux.
However, acid reflux and milk allergy seem to be linked, according to this paper.
Sometimes almond milk can cause stomach problems or bloating.
If you a have tree nuts allergy, almonds can not only cause chest or stomach pain, but also an anaphylactic shock, which requires immediate medical help.
Back pain after eating is usually a so-called “referred pain”, which means the problem is somewhere else in your body and not where you feel the pain.
Back pain after drinking milk or consuming dairy products is likely an allergic reaction or reflux symptom.