Dairy and acid reflux

Do you experience acid reflux after eating certain meals or foods? Your reflux may have a specific dietary link.

If you’re lactose intolerant, for example, you can experience a wide range of digestive symptoms, including heartburn.

Usually, avoiding foods that contain lactose is enough to ease your symptoms. It’s important to note, though, that lactose intolerance doesn’t directly cause heartburn or acid reflux. It’s the other symptoms that may or may not aggravate your reflux.

What the research says

A assessed the relationship between cow’s milk and acid reflux. When exposed to milk, 72 out of the 81 participants had digestive problems such as acid reflux.

These participants were then given a medication called omeprazole to reduce stomach acid. Even with the medication, 27 of these participants still experienced symptoms.

Researchers then eliminated dairy from their diets. The result? The researchers concluded that milk allergy and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are linked. All participants showed significant improvement in their symptoms after eliminating milk from their diets.

What are the benefits of dairy?


  • Certain dairy products contain probiotics.
  • Probiotics can aid in digestion.
  • Dairy is a good source of calcium.

Don’t give up dairy just yet. If you aren’t allergic or sensitive to dairy, or have lactose intolerance, there may be some benefit to adding dairy products such as yogurt to your diet. Many yogurts contain probiotics or “good” bacteria that can improve gut health. Probiotics can also aid with digestion.

Probiotics have been shown to help with the following conditions:

More studies are needed to fully assess probiotics and their potential positive effects on acid reflux. Ask your doctor if eating yogurt or taking probiotic supplements may help with your reflux symptoms.

In general, dairy products are also a good source of calcium and vitamin D, though these benefits may not outweigh the potential increase in symptoms.

Risks and warnings

Many people can consume dairy without having any adverse side effects. However, a growing number of people worldwide experience intolerances and allergies to a wide range of foods, including dairy.

Milk allergy, most common in children but still present in adults, can carry severe side effects beyond acid reflux. If you suspect you or your child has a dairy allergy, you should seek immediate medical attention. A severe allergic reaction to dairy may lead to anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • skin rash and hives
  • swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Dairy substitutes for acid reflux relief

If you think dairy is contributing to your acid reflux, elimination is your first step. You may find that over time you have less desire for dairy products in general. You can also consider trying a dairy substitute. These days, you can find an alternative for most dairy products on the market.

While many of these substitutes are often very processed, with a long list of ingredients, they’re usually made from nuts or other plant material and may provide the additional benefits of fiber, plant fats, and less animal fats.

You can find alternatives for most dairy products at natural food stores or in the health food section of many grocery stores. Be sure to check the labels carefully. Most substitutes are made from a base of:

Some popular brands include:

  • Kite Hill
  • Tofutti
  • Silk
  • Whole Soy
  • Follow Your Heart
  • Earth Balance
  • Soymage
  • Rice Dream
  • Soy Delicious

Many grocery store chains are now making their own versions of nondairy milks and other foods, too.

How to cook with dairy substitutes

Most dairy substitutes, especially plain milks, can be used in a 1:1 ratio when cooking. Unsweetened versions tend to be the most neutral for flavor. For other dairy products, learning the ropes just takes a little trial and error.

Here are some common dairy ingredients and how to create them from nondairy alternatives.

  • Buttermilk. Add one tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of soy milk or another alternative.
  • Ricotta. Crumble and season firm tofu.
  • Evaporated milk. Simmer nondairy milk on the stove until it’s reduced by 60 percent.
  • Sweetened condensed milk. Mix one cup evaporated nondairy milk with 1 1/4 cups sugar.
  • Heavy cream. Use full-fat coconut milk in a 1:1 ratio.
  • Parmesan cheese. Use nutritional yeast as a 1:1 replacement.

The bottom line

Keeping a food diary may be a good way to identify if milk is causing or worsening your reflux symptoms. If you see a link, try eliminating foods that contain dairy (cheese, yogurt, butter, milk, and milk byproducts) from your diet to see if your reflux improves. Meeting with a dietitian can also help you with diet changes or dairy elimination.

See your doctor if your acid reflux happens more than twice a week over an extended period. If changing your diet doesn’t work, ask your doctor about treatment options. They can work with you to determine the best treatment plan for you.