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The Effect of Dairy on the Digestive System

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

What is lactose intolerance?

Many people are diagnosed with lactose intolerance, but many don't even know they have it. Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the body is unable to digest the sugar found in milk - lactose. Lactose intolerance occurs when there is a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for breaking down lactose into simpler sugars that can be absorbed by the body.

Over the years, lactase production in the body decreases, so the chance of developing lactose sensitivity increases with age. When lactose is not broken down properly, it remains in the digestive system and can cause symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, headaches and a variety of other symptoms, which are not always associated with this problem. These symptoms occur because the undigested lactose ferments in the large intestine, causing an increase in gas production and in water content in the stool. The severity of the symptoms can vary depending on the amount of lactose consumed and the level of lactase deficiency in the body. Some people may be able to tolerate small amounts of lactose, while others will need to completely avoid lactose-containing foods.

Sensitivity to casein

Another problem that may be caused mainly as a result of consuming cow's milk products, is sensitivity to casein, the protein is found in milk-. The symptoms of casein sensitivity are similar to the symptoms of lactose sensitivity and it is very easy to confuse them. Some people suffer from both sensitivities. Consumption of "low lactose" dairy products would not help casein sensitivity, since they still contain casein.

In addition, milk and its non-organic products usually contain a considerable amount of hormones and antibiotics, that can lead to digestive problems, mood swings, acne, hormonal imbalances, obesity and other health problems.

It is important to note that lactose intolerance and casein sensitivity are different from milk allergy, which is a congenital and life-threatening condition, in which it is forbidden to touch even a tiny amount of dairy products.

The difference between goat's milk and cow's milk

There is a growing awareness regarding the negative effect of dairy on the digestive system. many people choose to consume goat's milk over cow's milk, thinking that it is healthier, but what is the difference between these two types of milk? Goat's milk has more vitamins and minerals than cow's milk. The fat molecules in goat's milk are smaller than those in cow's milk, which makes it easier to digest. Goat's milk contains little less sugar (and lactose) than cow's milk, but it is still not suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. Furthermore, it contains significantly less milk protein, so for those who are intolerant to casein, goat's milk is probably a better option than cow's milk.

Remember, along with several obvious advantages of goat's milk over cow's milk, it can still cause similar problems. There are several ways to deal with lactose intolerance and casein sensitivity. One option, and the most recommended, is to limit or avoid milk and its products completely (or leave them only for special occasions). Another option, which is only suitable for a situation of lactose sensitivity, is to take a lactase enzyme supplement before consuming lactose-containing foods. The enzyme supplement can indeed help break down the lactose and reduce the severity of the symptoms, but it does not solve the root of the problem and actually gives a "green light" to continue introducing the harmful substances in dairy products into the body, such as saturated fats, casein, hormones and antibiotics.

Milk substitutes

Stopping the consumption of dairy products does not come easily to everyone and can be quite frustrating, especially if you are not familiar with possible substitutes. To support overall health and restore the digestive system, I recommend to many of my patients, and to you too, to choose other alternatives to milk. Trust me, there are many other great options, and in this article, I will introduce you to some of them.

While some milk substitutes are incredibly nutritious and healthy, others have some drawbacks. Here is the full list:

  • Coconut liquid

Coconut liquid is a vegan milk derived from the flesh of the coconut (as opposed to coconut water, which is the clear, fat-free liquid found inside unripe coconuts). Coconut liquid products are usually mixed with water and therefore less fatty than coconut milk.

Coconut liquid is very rich in healthy fats, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. The medium chain fatty acids (MCT) which compose the coconut liquid, balance the microbiome (intestinal bacteria) and may help with weight loss and reduce blood sugar levels. Furthermore, the coconut liquid has anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties.

  • Coconut cream

Coconut cream contains higher fat percentages than coconut liquid and it has a creamy texture. Coconut cream is excellent as an addition to coffee, smoothies and even soups. When you choose coconut products, note that they don't not contain preservatives and emulsifiers but only coconut and water!

  • Almond milk

Almond milk is one of the most popular milk substitutes, and it is very suitable for sensitive bowel conditions. The creamy texture of almond milk is very similar to regular milk and it also has a delicious nutty taste, some would even say sweet. Almond milk is very nutritious and rich in vitamins and minerals. It has a third of the calories of cow's milk and is low in carbohydrates. Drinking unsweetened almond milk does not raise blood sugar because it only has 0.6% carbohydrates compared to 5% in cow's milk.

Besides the contribution to the digestive system, almond milk may also contribute to cardiovascular health and reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood.

  • Oat milk

Oat milk has become a very popular milk substitute in recent years. Oat milk is produced by blending oats and water.

It is important to note that oats contain gluten, so for those who are wary of gluten, it is better to consider using other options. Furthermore, many oat milk brands contain sugar and flavorings.

  • Rice milk

Rice milk is also very common as a milk substitute. It is less recommended for diabetics because it is very rich in carbohydrates and may increase blood sugar levels, and encourage weight gain. If you chose to use rice milk, I recommend buying the organic one, because non-organic rice contains high levels of harmful heavy metals, like arsenic.

Soy milk

Soy milk is a liquid extract derived from whole soybeans. On the one hand, it is an excellent source of protein, B vitamins and iron, on the other hand, it is the most processed option of all substitutes, and it is not suitable for babies.

  • Cheeses and yogurt

Hard cheeses like Gouda, Parmesan, and Cheddar, usually contain less lactose than soft cheeses, and in some cases, they are tolerated better by the digestive system. The problem is, that they still contain casein and in many cases preservatives as well. In any case, in acute digestive conditions, such as an inflammatory attack of Crohn's, ulcerative colitis or diverticulitis, it is advisable to avoid cheeses of all types. Yogurt is a dairy product made from fermented milk with live bacterial cultures. The bacteria ferment the lactose in the milk, and produce lactic acid, which thickens the milk and gives yogurt its bitter taste. Natural yogurt without added sugar and other substances is a good source of protein, and other important nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium and magnesium. It also contains the Lactobacillus bacterium, which is an important probiotic bacterium that supports and strengthens the health of the digestive system. Natural yogurt is low in lactose, so it can be suitable for those who suffer from lactose sensitivity. At the same time, it still contains casein, so in situations where there is sensitivity to casein, it is recommended to consume vegan yogurts. Today you can find a huge variety of yogurts in stores, but most of them are not really natural, probiotic yogurts.

In conclusion

When we choose milk substitutes, it is important to pay attention to the ingredients they contain! Some brands may contain sugar, preservatives, and refined oil, which may harm the digestive system and encourage inflammation in the body.

If even after several weeks of avoiding products we still suffer from gas, bloating, diarrhea or other symptoms in the digestive system, there is a high chance that there is something else in our diet that we are sensitive to, or another underlying health problem that we are not aware of.

the effect of dairy on the digestive system


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