Milk and IBD: Friend or Foe?
Last updated: May 2022
One of the most frustrating things about life with inflammatory bowel disease is how it varies so much between us. I recently blogged about alcohol and IBD. A lot of you told me that this was an absolute no-go for you whilst others seemed nonplussed and said they hadn't noticed a connection. Whether it's sleep, diet or exercise, there truly is no 'one size fits all plan.'
So today, I wanted to zoom in on diet and talk about another popular food and drink item: milk! It's also another drink that has its friends and its enemies.
I am going to be looking at milk as a potential gut trigger, but also the benefits of milk for our bodies. I'm also really interested to hear all about your experiences with it too!
The potential problems with milk for someone with Crohn's or colitis
So let's start by discussing why milk could be a problem food.
- Lactose Intolerance.Lactose intolerance can occur at random; for example during a bout of food poisoning, your body is also less efficient at producing the lactase needed to break down the lactose in milk. These levels also deplete as you get older- so you might find you were fine with milk as a child but struggle as an adult. Because lactose intolerance can be temporary, some people with IBD might find lactose difficult to digest when their gut is flaring. Lactose intolerance can usually cause bloating and diarrhea and can be tested by a breath test.
- Other parts of milk. Lactose isn't the only part of milk people struggle with. The milk protein itself (such as whey or casein) can be an issue even if you've gone lactose-free. A study (source ) suggested that there is a 'significant relationship between UC and cow's milk and casein.' But it's important to note these studies only look at a small group of people with IBD. Problems with whey and casein are more difficult to figure out (as symptoms may occur days after) so it's usually done through keeping a food diary.
- Farming Methods. Some people may find that they feel better when drinking organic milk-due to the farming methods used in regular cow's milk.
The benefits of drinking milk
- It can help with weight gain. Milk is a nutrient dense drink- meaning it's easy to drink even if you feel full and can help you gain weight if drinking full-fat versions.
- It's soothing. Many people feel ice cream and milk can be comforting during a flare. This is most likely because they contain very little fibre and are low residue.
- It contains calcium. Calcium-rich foods are vital to IBD patients and many find regularly drinking milk or milk products to help with this.
What to do if you suspect you can't drink milk:
About 3 years ago, I decided to experiment to see if milk was a potential trigger. A doctor can perform a breath test, but my doctor told me to go by symptoms instead. I kept a diary for several weeks, and then replaced milk products with plant-based alternatives to see if there was a difference. For me, I noticed loose stools and gas reduced drastically, so I decided to stick with my plant-based alternatives. However, I would advise*...
- Always getting calcium levels checked regularly by your doctor.
- Drinking reinforced plant-based alternatives of milk- with added calcium and B12.
- A digestive enzyme may help if you drink milk accidently.
- Also experimenting with sheep and goat's milk (goat's milk in particularly is easier to digest in general and is something I can handle occasionally)
That's my experiences with milk. I'd love to hear yours- can you handle it? Is milk a friend or foe?
*As always, everyone's experience is different, so be sure to talk with your doctor before making any changes!
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