Milk indigestion – causes, symptoms and 3 simple home remedies

Milk is a major source of nutrition for adults and children alike, and the only one for breastfeeding infants. Still, ranging from 5 to 90 percent people in various countries find it difficult to digest milk. This is mostly due to one of the two conditions – lactose intolerance and milk allergy. Lactose intolerance is caused by inability of the body to produce the enzyme necessary for breaking lactose, a ‘heavy’ sugar (disaccharide, technically speaking), into its easily digestible components, glucose and galactose. Milk allergy, on the other hand, is due to inability to tolerate certain complex proteins in milk. People with conditions have to ban milk completely from their daily food. This has a serious impact on their long-term health and wellbeing. Today, milk indigestion is easily one of the most dangerously neglected minor health conditions.

Milk indigestion

Before we move on to the remedies we will take a brief look at the signs and symptoms of milk indigestion. People suffering from lactose intolerance can, within half to two hours of consuming milk, have the following symptoms – abdominal cramps, pain, bloating, ‘rumbling’ of the stomach, flatulence (accumulation of gases in stomach), sometimes diarrhoea and vomiting sensation. Children especially have a higher tendency towards vomiting and flatulence. Allergic people can additionally have rashes, itching and in rare cases, constipation instead of diarrhoea. Differentiating between these two conditions is simple – lactose intolerant people don’t get symptoms after drinking lactose-free milk (which is available in most urban markets), whereas allergic people continue to be troubled whether the milk is lactose-free or not.

Now, having had the diagnosis primer, here come the remedies –

1. The all-purpose trick

Make a powder of equal amounts of – (Ayurvedic and botanical names in bracket)
   Dried ginger (Shunthi – Zingiber officinale)
   Black pepper (Marich – Piper nigrum)
   Long pepper (Pippali – Piper longum)
Add 2 to 4 pinchfuls of this powder to the milk after it starts simmering. Switch the heat off as usual, when the milk reaches a rolling boil.

Scientific background
This mixture, known as ‘Trikatu‘ (‘the three sour ones’) in Ayurveda, is described as an excellent digestive, appetiser, mildly anti-pyretic (fever reducing), anti-inflammatory and has a very good nausea relieving action. It assists in breaking down lactose for lactose intolerant people, and is an efficient cheap alternative to the enzyme pills prescribed for this condition. For the allergic people, Shunthi serves to suppress the allergic response of the body to the milk proteins, and Marich and Pippali help in digesting the proteins through increased gastric juice secretion and their enzymo-mimetic actions. What’s more, this preparation has very good preventive properties against bacteria causing common lung and skin infections. All in all, this is a win-win deal if you don’t mind the slight sour-tangy flavour it adds to the milk.

This mixture should be used cautiously by people having acidity/acid-reflux problems – start with the lowest dose, stick to the limits, and abandon if you still feel troubled.

Try this modification to enhance the taste – Add equal amounts of cardamom (Elaichi), cinnamon (Daalchini) and clove (Loung) powders to the mixture. It makes great flavored tea as well.

2. The no-compromise-on-taste technique

Recipe – Add equal amount of water to the milk, and boil away until only the milk (half volume) remains.

Scientific background
This method, described by 6th century physician Vagbhat, is considered as the gold standard in Ayurveda for making milk digestible and safe for ill people. It definitely improves digestibility in people with milk allergy, by breaking down the complex proteins. Results for lactose intolerance are debated currently due to absence of highly reviewed clinical trials supporting the claims. Yet, it is definitely worth a try at home as it has no other risk issues associated.

No change in taste, colour and smell.
Adds to disinfection of milk.

Takes more time and energy.
Results not supported by clinical evidence.

One may try using lesser amount of water upto half the amount depending on the degree of their condition. The only fact to remember is to boil until the original quantity of milk in volume remains.

3. The lazy technique (only for lactose intolerants)

Mix half parts yogurt (Dahi) in one part milk, blend in a juicer and allow to stand for half an hour before drinking. The taste difference is there, but far lesser than the first technique.

Yogurt (Dahi)

Scientific background
Yogurt contains natural bacteria which secret the enzyme (beta-D-galactoside) necessary for breaking down the lactose in the milk. Mixing it in milk and consuming in a couple of hours allows for a significant lactase action without the curdling of milk.

Only slight deviation in taste.
Increased nutritional value.
Ease of preparation.

Slower and less effective method.

Still not bored of reading all the technical stuff? Here’s some bonus trivia only for you!

1. A simpler technique is to drink a large cupful of hot water after consuming milk or milk products. Higher temperature acts as a catalyst for the digestive reactions, and helps the body’s natural mechanism in breaking down the proteins, fats and lactose in milk.

2. Yogurt, as a matter of fact, is a very good nutritional substitute to milk for lactose intolerant people. Lactose being a water soluble compound, gets dissolved in the water part of yogurt. The curd part, containing very less amount of lactose, can therefore be consumed safely. Naturally, cheese and paneer are also very safe to eat in lactose intolerance.

3. Nothing beats a good short workout in ramping up the body’s digestive capabilities. Try exercising daily for a few minutes atleast. Predominantly cardio exercises like jogging, cycling or swimming are ideal, only not immediately before drinking milk, as they decrease the blood availability to the stomach and guts for half an hour, which affects quality of digestion.

Have any further questions, doubts or queries? Need guidance on any health issues? Ask the author in the comments section below, or on this page.

About the Author – 

Dr. Harshad Rajandekar holds an Ayurvedacharya degree in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery, writes the Dr.Herbz blog, and runs an integrative medicine consultancy at Nasik, India.

Disclaimer – This article is for informative and home remedy purposes only, and NOT intended to replace professional medical advice in very severe illness.

Images courtesy: Wikimedia Commons


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