Let’s face it, milk is everywhere! Even if you don’t drink milk by the glass, you might be consuming more milk than you realize, such as whey or casein protein shakes, yogurt, cream-based soups, instant hot cocoa, or certain probiotic supplements. Although milk contains different nutritional perks, it can be an IBS-trigger for many reasons:
This factor is probably the most well known reason why some people are not able to consume dairy products without GI distress. Reason being, some people do not produce enough lactase (enzyme) to properly assimilate lactose (the sugar naturally found in milk). If a person's body does not make enough lactase (enzyme) to handle the influx of lactose (imagine drinking a large milk-based smoothie), then chaos can result in the digestive tract, leading to bloating, gas, diarrhea, and even constipation. FYI, lactose intolerance is most common in older individuals and those of Asian or African American descent, although it can affect any age and racial group. Lactose intolerance is usually treated by limiting lactose intake (from dairy) and/or taking lactase supplements to aid with lactose digestion.
Consuming large amounts of dairy products can result in constipation because dairy proteins can be difficult for the digestive system to break down, especially for those with a sensitive digestive system. Greek yogurt, milk-based protein powders (casein or whey protein), cottage cheese, and hard cheese can be particularly constipating for some people. If you struggle with slow motility, I recommend doing an experiment by minimizing your dairy protein intake for 5 days and see if you notice an improvement with your regularity in the bathroom.
Milk is promoted for its high calcium content - a vital mineral that most Americans don't get enough of. However, if you are consuming a lot of dairy, it is possible you could be consuming too much calcium, especially if you also take a supplement or multivitamin with calcium, or ingest a food with extra calcium added to it. Calcium is a mineral that is involved with muscle contraction, so if a person is taking in too much calcium, it can lead to constipation because the intestines are not able to relax to move stool through the colon properly. The longer it takes for waste material to move through the colon, the more water is absorbed out of the stool, making it harder and impacted, thus exacerbating constipation even more!
Corn, Wheat, or Soy Sensitivity
For my clients who undergo food sensitivity testing and prove to be reactive to corn, wheat, and/or soy, I usually recommend they avoid dairy until their digestive symptoms stabilize. Reason being, modern-day cow feed usually contains corn, wheat, and soy, and it is possible that the food antigen the cow ate can end up in the cow's milk. In other words, if a person:
- Does not have lactose intolerance,
- Is not sensitive to dairy protein, and
- Is not ingesting too much calcium...
Because dairy is such a "wild card" when it comes to IBS symptoms, many people use non-dairy "milk" alternatives instead. However, nut "milk" and other plant-based "milks" can provoke IBS symptoms as well, which I will discuss in my next blog post!