Can milk help soothe heartburn?

Milk as a remedy for heartburn – is it fact or fiction?

Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

24 September 2021

Can milk soothe heartburn?

Whilst the pH of milk means it can temporarily buffer stomach acid, the fat and protein content of milk means it is eventually acid-producing. Whilst this isn't always a bad thing as we need sufficient stomach acid, for those with a weakened lower oesophageal sphincter, for example, it could prove problematic and symptoms may arise.

Why is milk a supposed remedy for heartburn?

Why is milk considered to be a useful remedy for heartburn? In the presence of supposed excess stomach acid (this isn’t always the case as I will go on to discuss later) milk is assumed to have a neutralising effect.

See, hydrochloric acid combines with other substances to make up your stomach acid. Stomach acid has a pH which ranges from 1-3, so we can safely say it is strongly acidic.

Milk is presumed to be alkaline, although it actually comes in at between pH 6.5 and 6.7 which makes it slightly acidic Therefore, it can neutralize stomach acid to some degree but not as much as you might assume.

What must be taken into consideration though is that although milk may be more alkaline than stomach acid, the composition of the milk itself actually makes it acid-producing.

Milk is rich in both saturated fat and protein which stimulate the release of hydrochloric acid from parietal cells in the gastric glands of the stomach. Foods or drinks disproportionally high in fat also risk delaying stomach emptying and cause the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) to relax prematurely; a combination of which can result in indigestion and heartburn.

Then, it's important to remember that your stomach has a protective mucous layer which acts as a barrier against the erosive effects of your stomach acid; however, your oesophagus isn’t so lucky – if stomach acid splashes back up into your gullet – known as acid reflux – you are likely to feel the intense, burning sensation you know as heartburn.

Heartburn can be so painful many people do actually mistake it for a problem with their heart! This can be distressing, so effective home remedies are in high demand.

So, in summary, what are my thoughts on milk for soothing heartburn? Yes, perhaps it is possible that milk could offer some sort of short-lived relief of heartburn, but, realistically in the long-term, consuming too much of certain types of foods or drinks could actually be making your problem worse. As always, balance is key.

What other food or drinks should you consider avoiding?

If milk isn't the ideal remedy for your heartburn due to its composition, not to mention the potential environmental implications, are there any other foods or drinks out there to be aware of that could be adding to the misery?

Well, as previously mentioned, overly fatty foods, dense animal proteins, not to mention, particularly large portions of these types of foods could all overburden your digestive system, cause delayed gastric emptying, trigger an increase in gastric secretions and can affect the pressure inside your tummy... is that all!? All of these factors make heartburn a more likely outcome.

There is the belief that acidic foods and drinks could make your symptoms worse in some cases too, therefore it may be helpful to keep an eye on how you react to citrus fruits and juices, and tomato-based products.

However, it is important to consider that how your digestion is working and in turn what symptoms you are experiencing, rather than this only being as a result of you consuming certain foods. In many cases, too little stomach acid, rather than too much is thought to be an underlying issue that could give rise to symptoms such as heartburn. If this is the case you may find taking a spoonful of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar can actually HELP your symptoms, incredible!

It really is all down to you to try and understand your body. Okay, so there are a few foods out there that may exacerbate your symptoms (although different foods can affect different people so this really isn't clear-cut and is often individual) but generally; processed foods, alcohol and caffeine are common triggers to be aware of. Try and limit these whenever possible for a happier tum.

The importance of good eating habits

Ok, so there is some debate as to whether or not milk can really help to ease heartburn, the simple answer being: it probably isn't the main tactic to focus on.

Moving on, I would now like you to think about how you eat and drink rather than what food choices you are making. Your eating habits could be the key to sorting out your iffy digestion once and for all. Click the above link to read my top tips on how to approach mealtime.

Are there any natural remedies for heartburn?

In the meantime, there are some natural remedies available that may be more effective in helping to ease your heartburn:

So, relying on milk to ease your heartburn could be a thing of the past. Instead, begin to understand how your stomach operates, the importance of not only what you eat but also how you eat and, with the help of some natural remedies, you can begin to say goodbye to unwanted symptoms.

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