Does Milk Help Heartburn?

Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux that occurs when gastric juices back up from the stomach into the esophagus, irritating the cells that line the food pipe.

In addition to heartburn, acid reflux can cause you to develop a cough, bad breath, and trouble swallowing. Repeated episodes of heartburn usually signal the presence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Research shows that approximately 20% of adults in the United States, or more than 60 million Americans, experience heartburn at least once a month. Some studies even suggest that more than 15 million Americans experience heartburn symptoms at least once per day. This number is far too high given GERD’s potentially deadly nature if left untreated.

This article will review common symptoms of heartburn, as well as whether natural remedies, including drinking milk, are effective at managing symptoms.

A Black man drinking a glass of milk.

Joice Kelly / Unsplash

Symptoms

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a digestive disorder that occurs when triggers like spicy foods, high caffeine intake, obesity, and smoking cause repeated bouts of gastrointestinal reflux. When this happens, gastric juices from the stomach back up into the esophagus, causing damage to the lining of the esophagus. 

Common symptoms of GERD include:

  • Coughing
  • Bad breath
  • Heartburn
  • Trouble swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • The feeling of food caught in your throat
  • Nonburning chest pain

Milk and Heartburn: Are There Benefits?

The myth that milk relieves heartburn has existed for a long time, in part due to the soothing nature we imagine that milk has on and in our bodies.

In reality, milk is far from a one-size-fits-all remedy for heartburn. While milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, it rarely relieves heartburn. In fact, milk that is high in fat, like whole milk, is one of the most common triggers of heartburn and can worsen heartburn symptoms once they start. 

Benefits of Milk

Meeting your daily dairy requirements by drinking milk means that you are likely providing yourself with many valuable nutrients including:

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin A

These nutrients are important to your health whether you get them from milk, other dairy products, or other food groups entirely. 

Drawbacks of Milk for Heartburn

Milk does not “coat” the stomach to protect it from stomach acid as some people might think. In fact, the high-fat content of dairy products stimulates acid production in the stomach which can trigger acid reflux.

Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux

Milk is one of many natural remedies that people try to help treat their acid reflux, but there are other natural remedies that appear to be more effective. These include:

  • Herbs such as ginger, chamomile, aloe juice, and licorice can serve as digestive aids.
  • Baking soda, which when combined with water can help neutralize acid in the stomach.
  • Apple cider vinegar. Like baking soda, taking a spoonful of apple cider vinegar with some water is thought to serve as a digestive aid. 
  • Sugar-free gum (saliva production can provide a soothing effect and help decrease the production of acid in the stomach)
  • Eat a banana (or another high-alkaline food). Bananas are high in potassium, making them a fairly alkaline food. This means it is the perfect food to counter the stomach acid that is irritating your esophagus.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking reduces saliva production, thereby increasing the production of stomach acid. 
  • Don’t lay down after you eat and wear loose-fitting clothing. Anything that pushes on the belly or negates gravity from keeping your food (and stomach acid) down can cause or exacerbate your heartburn. 

It's Important to note that herbal remedies do not undergo testing for safety and effectiveness by the federal government, are not FDA approved, and often do not have to meet the same standards for manufacturing and packaging that prescription drugs do. You should never take an herbal remedy in place of traditional medication without first disclosing this information to your healthcare provider. 

Summary

Heartburn, or acid reflux, is a painful condition where the gastric juices of the stomach back up into the esophagus. There's long been a myth that milk can soothe the throat and curb reflux symptoms. But most research suggests that milk, especially full-fat milk, can actually make symptoms worse. It's best to work with your healthcare provider to formulate lifestyle changes and a treatment plan best suited to you.

A Word From Verywell

The idea of milk coating the lining of the stomach and relieving heartburn is more myth than reality. Using antacids and acid blockers, living a healthy lifestyle, and avoiding trigger foods seem to be much more effective in relieving heartburn, although more research is needed to assess the effectiveness, if any, of low-fat dairy products on heartburn. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes heartburn?

    Heartburn occurs when acid, food, or fluids in the stomach back up from the stomach into the esophagus causing symptoms of coughing, bad breath, heartburn, and trouble swallowing. It can be triggered by foods that are spicy, high in caffeine (like coffee and chocolate), or fatty or fried, as well as citrus products, onions, smoking, alcohol, and certain medications. 

  • How long does heartburn last?

    Heartburn can last anywhere from several minutes to a few hours, depending on the underlying cause.

  • When does pregnancy heartburn start?

    Heartburn in pregnancy usually starts in the second or third trimester but it varies by woman. 

  • Can you prevent heartburn?

    Heartburn is highly preventable without the need for medication if you are willing to make a few lifestyle modifications. These include avoiding foods that trigger your heartburn, quitting smoking, not laying down after you eat, maintaining a healthy weight, and wearing loose fitting clothing.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. GERD diet: Foods that help with acid reflux (heartburn).

  4. Harvard Health. Herbal remedies for Heartburn.

  5. Keshteli AH, Shaabani P, Tabibian SR, Saneei P, Esmaillzadeh A, Adibi P. The relationship between fruit and vegetable intake with gastroesophageal reflux disease in Iranian adultsJ Res Med Sci. 2017;22:125. doi:10.4103/jrms.JRMS_283_17