Is Milk Good for an Ulcer?

Back in the day, it was common to see characters on TV and in the movies dash to the refrigerator and pour themselves a glass of milk to soothe their aching ulcer.

"It coats the stomach," they often said between gulps.

Milk can coat the stomach, that's true. It can even temporarily ease some of the pain of an ulcer, especially if your stomach is otherwise empty.

But milk also triggers your stomach to produce more acid and digestive juices, which are the last things an ulcer needs.

So if you're wondering if milk is a good way to treat an ulcer, the answer is, it might provide some relief for a short time. Unfortunately, it won't work for long.

This article explains the causes and symptoms of peptic ulcers. It also describes the best way to eat and drink when you have an ulcer—and why milk is not the best choice.

Girl Drinking Milk
David Harrigan / Getty Images

What Are Peptic Ulcers?

A peptic ulcer is an open sore in the lining of either the stomach or the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. Ulcers can hurt a lot, especially when the stomach is empty.

People used to think ulcers were caused by stress. But as it turns out, stress doesn't seem to be a factor.

Common Causes

The most frequent causes of ulcers include:

  • Infection with bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, which eat away at the protective lining of the stomach and allow gastric juices to get in and cause even more damage.
  • Long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen, which are over-the-counter medications. Some prescription NSAIDs also might cause ulcers.
  • A condition called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. This is a rare condition in which tumors form in the pancreas or upper gastrointestinal tract and oversecrete gastrin, a hormone that causes the stomach to produce too much acid.

Since food goes into the stomach, it's logical to assume that there's a connection between certain foods or beverages and having an ulcer. But food doesn't cause ulcers.

However, caffeine and alcohol can make ulcer symptoms worse.

Ulcers Are Sores

By definition, ulcers are sores. And the word “peptic” means that the cause is acid.

Ulcer Symptoms

The primary symptom of a peptic ulcer is pain, which is often described as gnawing or burning in the middle or upper stomach. The pain tends to be worst at night and early in the morning, when the stomach is empty.

Other ulcer symptoms include:

You may try to ignore these warning signs, but you shouldn't. And especially see your healthcare provider right away if your symptoms escalate to include:

Ulcer Complications

It's possible that all of these symptoms could go away on their own. More often, they require treatment to avoid additional problems such as:

  • Bleeding, which can be gradual or severe and lead to anemia (a lack of oxygen-carrying red blood cells)
  • Gastric outlet obstruction, which blocks the passage from the stomach to the small intestine
  • Perforation, when the ulcer forms a hole all the way through the wall of the stomach

Why You Might Be Told to Drink Milk

For many years, people with peptic ulcers were told not only to drink milk but to drink lots of it. Physicians accepted the wisdom that milk would soothe the stomach and even help heal an ulcer.

Today, they know better. Milk might soothe an ulcer for a few minutes. But milk also stimulates your stomach to produce more acid, which can make ulcers hurt more.

If milk has become a regular part of your diet, and you hate the thought of giving it up, ask your healthcare provider about alternatives. Lactose-free or soy milk may be good substitutes that won't irritate your ulcer.

Drinking and Eating With an Ulcer

Some other beverages can irritate an ulcer, too. This is why it's a good idea to give up coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, alcohol, and citrus fruit juices until the ulcer is healed. All of these are acidic or can increase stomach acid. Plain water is the best choice.

Meal timing might also make a difference. Some patients have reported a reduction in pain if they skip between-meal snacks, because eating less often reduces the amount of stomach acid produced throughout the day. Less stomach acid means less irritation.

Beyond that, your physician is in the best position to recommend a list of foods and drinks you should avoid. Expect to engage in some trial and error until your ulcer has healed, which could take at least several weeks.

Many years ago, people with ulcers were put on a bland diet until their ulcer healed. This move is no longer recommended. As the American College of Gastroenterology says, "the days of ulcer patients surviving on a bland diet are a thing of the past."

Summary

A peptic ulcer is an open sore in the lining of either the stomach or the duodenum that can cause much discomfort and pain. They're commonly caused by H. pylori bacteria, NSAID medications, and certain medical conditions.

Years ago, milk was commonly recommended as an ulcer treatment. But today's physicians know that milk can actually cause the stomach to produce more acid, which can make ulcers hurt even more. It's best to avoid it and drink plain water instead.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a good diet for a stomach ulcer?

    Eating a well-balanced diet is important while you're being treated for an ulcer. According to researchers, eating foods with fiber—such as apples, oatmeal, and flaxseed—can help reduce acid levels in the stomach and decrease pain. Avoid foods that can increase gastric acid production, such as coffee, chocolate, and soft drinks.

  • How long does it take for an ulcer to heal?

    Peptic ulcers take several weeks to heal with treatment. Your doctor will likely prescribe medications to help them heal, including antibiotics to treat H. pylori bacteria and histamine blockers or proton pump inhibitors to reduce acid production.

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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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