What's the link between dairy and acid reflux?

Dairy is not among the recognized causes of acid reflux, but some people may still experience this symptom when eating dairy.

People who experience acid reflux after eating dairy products can instead opt for lower fat dairy options or alternatives to dairy.

In this article, we describe acid reflux. We also discuss the association between dairy and acid reflux.

Overview

People with heartburn may experience a burning sensation in the chest that moves up into the neck and throat.

This sensation is due to acid from the stomach rising into the esophagus, or food pipe.

The esophagus does not have the same protection as the stomach against acid and digestive enzymes, so contact with stomach juices can damage its lining.

People may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if they experience:

Some people also get a sour or bitter taste in their mouth. This taste comes from the acid that has made its way to the back of the throat. Sometimes, symptoms can last for several hours.

The job of the lower esophageal sphincter is to keep the stomach contents from rising into the esophagus. If the sphincter becomes weakened, stomach juices can make their way into the esophagus and cause heartburn.

Relationship between dairy and acid reflux

Some foods can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, making it easier for the contents of the stomach to reach the esophagus.

The American College of Gastroenterology's clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and management of GERD do not list dairy as a cause of heartburn. However, high fat dairy products, such as whole milk and yogurt, can relax the sphincter, potentially leading to heartburn.

Other foods that can relax the lower esophageal sphincter include:

Some doctors recommend avoiding all foods that cause acid reflux. However, this may not be necessary as some people with heartburn can tolerate some of the foods on this list.

People who experience heartburn should keep track of the foods that cause their symptoms and avoid those foods.

Lactose intolerance

People with lactose intolerance have difficulty digesting the lactose in dairy products. If they eat these foods, they may experience:

People sometimes refer to these symptoms as heartburn, but the medical community does not consider acid reflux to be a symptom of lactose intolerance.

Possible health benefits

Many dairy products are healthful and make a great snack. They are also an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D.

However, people with heartburn may develop acid reflux symptoms after eating dairy because of its high fat content.

Individuals who are keen not to avoid dairy completely may find that replacing high fat dairy products with lower fat varieties helps reduce acid reflux.

Possible health risks

Avoiding dairy because it causes acid reflux may lead to deficiencies in the many nutrients that dairy provides. Therefore, experts do not recommend routinely avoiding dairy if it does not contribute to a person's symptoms.

Low fat dairy can provide similar amounts of nutrients as high fat dairy options.

However, if a person does want to avoid dairy, many dairy alternatives are available in grocery stores. The person will need to take care to ensure that they are getting enough nutrients from other dietary sources.

Alternatives to dairy

People with lactose intolerance can reduce the amount of lactose in their diet by choosing low lactose or lactose-free dairy products.

Some people choose to avoid dairy altogether. People who either choose to avoid or cannot eat dairy must replace the nutrients that the elimination of dairy products has removed from their diet.

Dairy provides:

The following table, which takes its information from the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for AmericansTrusted Source and the Office of Dietary Supplements, lists some dietary sources of these vitamins and minerals.

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Protein Calcium Potassium Magnesium Vitamin D Vitamin A
seafood fortified, ready-to-eat cereal potatoes almonds salmon sweet potato with skin
meats almond milk prune juice spinach rainbow trout beef liver
poultry tofu carrot juice cashews swordfish spinach
eggs calcium-fortified orange juice passion fruit (yellow or purple) peanuts sturgeon carrots
nuts soy milk tomato paste shredded wheat cereal whitefish cantaloupe
seeds sardines beet greens soy milk mackerel sweet red peppers
soy products rice drink adzuki beans black beans portabella mushrooms mangoes
white beans edamame tuna black-eyed peas
tomato puree whole wheat bread halibut apricots
sweet potato avocado herring broccoli
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