My stomach don't work right and I don't know why.
June 15, 2012 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I've tried soy milk and I've tried almond milk. I've tried various brands of each. I've tried chocolate (which was slightly less painful than the rest), vanilla, and unsweetened. But it seems like no matter what I do, I still get the same kind of stomach cramps and bloating that I get from normal milk. What's the deal? I tried the Lactaid pills and whatnot to try and help with dairy and they did absolutely nothing. And what's more, I rarely have a problem with anything besides milk. Ice cream, yes. But I'm good with cheeses, yogurt, pizza, etc.
posted by Modica to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you drinking the milk on its own? In coffee or cereal? I wonder if maybe you're having a reaction to something else that goes on at the same time as you are consuming the milk, and the milk is just a red herring.

Anecdata: For years I thought I was lactose intolerant because I'd sometimes get horrible GI issues in the morning after having my lattes. I tried soy instead; same issue. Like you I never had any problems with cheese (fresh or aged), yogurt, dairy-containing meal items, etc. One day it occurred to me it was the damn coffee, which has a laxative effect if I drink it too fast or have a certain amount.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:58 PM on June 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Hi Modica.
Not a medical expert here, but will throw out a few suggestions.. have you tried drinking lactose-free milk (not soy/almond or the alternative forms)? The one I drink comes in a "Lactaid" bottle. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly is causing the bloated feeling because our digestive systems are pretty complicated... I would also recommend keeping a food diary... just recording what you are eating on a day to day basis. Do you only feel bloated when drinking milk? Or only when you're eating milk in addition to something else? Tiny things can sometimes make a big difference.
If I can find any resources for the issue that you mention here, I will definitely forward them over.
posted by raintree at 2:01 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Personally, I'm allergic to milk, soy and almonds. So that could be what's going on with you. I usually use coconut milk. So Delicious makes good coconut products for people with allergies. Or sometimes I go the the Asian section of the grocery store and get canned coconut milk from Thai Kitchen. (Other brands are not worth the money, to me. They're full of additives and don't taste good.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:20 PM on June 15, 2012

I'm okay with cheese or yogurt, but will have trouble with milk or ice cream. Your "what's more" is still compatible with lactose intolerance. ( I think being turned into cheese and yogurt reduces the amount of lactose. But don't quote me on that. )

I can't address the soy/almond milk issue, though.
posted by RobotHero at 2:45 PM on June 15, 2012

Also recommending a food diary.
You could be allergic/intolerant to an additive in those milks too. Or an A + B = bloating issue.
posted by Neekee at 2:49 PM on June 15, 2012

Is it a psychosomatic thing?

I don't really handle sausage well. Any sausage. Which is silly, because any sort of meat, of any quality, blended with any herbs/spices/aromatics, encased in almost anything or nothing, can be deemed a sausage. It's not something you can be allergic to or intolerant of, as a category of food. Further, charcuterie is a kind of sausage, and yet I can eat that just fine.

I was vegetarian for a long time, and when I began to transition back into omnivory, I just could not digest sausage. It made me extremely ill. One day, I was having dinner at a friend's house, and the main course was a vegetarian sausage (maybe Tofurkey brand?). It made me every bit as ill as "real" sausage would.

At this point I've just decided that stomachs and brains are weird and given up on eating any sausage at all unless it seems worth the horrible indigestion that will inevitably follow.
posted by Sara C. at 2:50 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

1- Cheese and yogurt don't have all that much lactose in them, because the lactose is taken up by the fermentation or curdling process. (Or leached out in the whey.)

2- Just a quick look at the ingredients of a couple Silk brands, they both contain "evaporated cane juice", about which wikipedia says: "Evaporated cane juice is a loosely defined term which can include combinations of sugars including glucose, and fructose." So maybe you have an issue with fructose too. I think I have read that lactose and fructose sensitivities are correlated. They certainly are with me. Apple juice runs right through me as badly or worse than milk.

3- I have found that I have to take about four of the lactase pills to counteract a big bowl of ice cream or milky bowl of cereal.
posted by gjc at 3:11 PM on June 15, 2012

I've had (am having) a similar experience, and to state it briefly: maybe the complex sugar in milk disagrees with you because the sugars pass into your colon without being properly broken down, and once there they essentially rot and mess with your shit. If you look into the "Low FODMAP" diet you'll learn a more technical (and no doubt more correct) explanation of all of this, and also learn of alternative foods that don't have any (or little) of the six kinds of complex sugars that don't agree with you. Even in the dairy area there're plenty of foods that, due to the chemical changes undergone in their formation, shouldn't offend your system, unless they do so due to their high grease/fat content or something. Soy is an offender, and nuts may be, I can't say off-hand.

I myself have problems with some, but not all, of the six complex sugars -- I can eat beans or onions, for instance, but too much of the wrong variety of dairy product messes with me, or eating beets does me no good. That last one was always a mystery to me until I read up on the FODMAP business.

Two notes -- an apology and a disclaimer:
1. I'm sorry to provide you with what many would consider TMI, but if I don't tend to it my gut causes me discomfort, and I feel for you if you're in the same position.

2. I'm not a doctor or nutrionalist or anything like that, so while I believe the above information to perhaps be germane, it may in fact be useless to you.
posted by mr. digits at 3:13 PM on June 15, 2012

Right. There are a variety of ingredients in the faux-milks that could also bug you - thickeners (carageenan, xanthan gum), or perhaps your body just doesn't like that form of 'milk', even though it is completely unrelated to your dairy milk woe, or you may be fine eating the nuts in their not 'milked in the carton with additives' forms.

Also: while people rarely believe this until it happens to them, and this applies to a crapton of health issues in the human body... just because you have never had a problem with X Y or Z doesn't mean you won't, tomorrow, even for no apparent reason, and even if you don't consider yourself "really old" or "unhealthy." The human body is still pretty damn mysterious to us despite what science would have you believe (especially about nutrition and what's really 'good' for us).
posted by bitterkitten at 3:19 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Usually, it's after eating a bowl of cereal or drinking some kind of coffee with milk in it. It's most common, though, with cereal. It doesn't run straight through me either but just ferments in my stomach and causes a lot of indigestion, gas (usually belching, for hours), and discomfort/pain.

I don't drink milk of any sort otherwise, mostly because I can't stand the taste. I don't drink the milk in my cereal bowl when I'm done, either. Just whatever happens to get on the spoon as I'm eating. I don't have any problems with almonds otherwise, either. I eat them all the time as a snack without incident.

This has been going on for almost eight years now, with the intensity of the reaction to yogurt, cheese, and other dairy going up and down in its intensity. I saw a specialist last year, and they did the colonoscopy and a bunch of other tests and found nothing abnormal (though, they didn't do any formal allergy test if I recall correctly). I always assumed it was lactose intolerance because my dad and my brother have the same problem, though theirs is much more gross than mine.
posted by Modica at 3:51 PM on June 15, 2012

I think it's probably the milk fat:
Concentrated milk fats, a common ingredient of processed foods and confectionary, trigger blooms of otherwise rare gut bacteria in mice that may contribute to inflammatory gut diseases
The mice were genetically engineered to mimic inflammatory bowel disease, unable to make a protein called interleukin 10 which normally damps down inflammation.

To their surprise, the researchers found that in mice fed the milk fat, Bilophila wadsworthia – bacteria that are normally extremely rare – became much more common, rapidly multiplying from practically zero to 6 per cent of the species found in the gut. The bacteria produce substances that irritate the gut lining and make it more porous, admitting immune cells that trigger inflammation.

Milk fats are hard to break down, requiring much higher-than-usual concentrations of sulphur-rich bile from the liver. Because B. wasworthia makes its energy by consuming sulphur-rich food, it thrived.
"The wadsworthia bacteria survived only in the mice eating the milk fat," says another member of the team, Suzanne Devkota, also at Chicago. "When we stopped feeding them milk fats, the bacteria disappeared," she said.
Note that the milk fats themselves are not what the bacteria are eating; they're eating the bile you squirt out of your gall bladder in order to disperse the milk fat and make it digestible-- that's why cheese and yogurt (when is someone going to come out with a probiotic called YoGut, I wonder-- possibly Yoplait, to attempt to break into a certain segment of the African-American market) don't give you a problem, I'd say-- the fats in them are more easily dispersed, but the fats in ice cream are not.

It so happened this week that my regular grocery store was out of my favorite brand during a late night coffee-milk run, and the only thing they did have I was willing to drink was some non-homogenized (didn't notice that!), 100% grass-fed, omega-3 rich stuff from a local dairy that made me roll my eyes as I was tossing it into the cart, but my bowels are in less of an uproar this week than they have been in years, and then today I found the linked article.
posted by jamjam at 3:52 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you tried milk without the cereal? Grains are notorious for causing the digestion problems you describe.
posted by platinum at 4:12 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Eight years? Give up and eat something different for breakfast!
posted by karlos at 4:22 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

No, I find milk revolting on its own, so I've never really tried it without the cereal. Cereal is far and away my favorite food, more than anything else by a mile. I switched to something else for breakfast, oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, but it's near impossible for me to not eat cereal at least once a day. And the idea of giving it up entirely is incomprehensible.
posted by Modica at 4:26 PM on June 15, 2012

Depending on what kind of cereal it is, could you eat it with yogurt rather than milk?
posted by shiny shoes at 4:39 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I always have rice milk (plain, not vanilla) on cereal.

Soy milk is too difficult to digest -- I only use it for cooking.

Almond milk is delicious, but also not so good for me.

I think rice milk tastes the best on cereal, also.
posted by amtho at 5:15 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have similar issues, so this is fascinating to me.

On a more helpful note, have you tried rice milk? I've found that it does not bother me at all, even though soy milk did. I use the vanilla flavor, and make sure it's ice-cold, and while I don't know that I'd down a glass, it's quite nice with cereal.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 5:16 PM on June 15, 2012

Cereal is far and away my favorite food, more than anything else by a mile. I switched to something else for breakfast, oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, but it's near impossible for me to not eat cereal at least once a day. And the idea of giving it up entirely is incomprehensible.

Sometimes we used apple juice on our cereal instead of milk, back when I was a kid. Maybe something like that would work for you?
posted by belladonna at 5:23 PM on June 15, 2012

Sometimes we used apple juice on our cereal instead of milk, back when I was a kid. Maybe something like that would work for you?

Or even try eating it with just water for a day or two. If the discomfort still occurs, you'll know it's definitely the cereal itself and not the liquid.
posted by platinum at 5:27 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you been tested for heliobacter pylori? Your symptoms sound a lot like my wife's, as do your attempts at self treatment. It's a simple test, and a simple treatment, and now she's back to being a muesli and latte for breakfast girl.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:59 PM on June 15, 2012

If you're good with yogurt, have you tried kefir? I sometimes have it on cereal. It's thick enough that you might be able to have some on its own without hitting your "eww milk" sensors, just to test, and it is yogurt so if it makes you ill you'll know it's either the cereal or your brain that's the problem.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:02 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you like cereals that have soy protein in them? Kashi Go Lean cereals - the whole line - upset my stomach terribly.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:07 PM on June 15, 2012

I agree with trying the cereal without milk for a few days and seeing what happens. (Personally, I wouldn't put apple juice or water on it--I would just nibble it dry.)
posted by elizeh at 8:24 PM on June 15, 2012

Second the fats theory. I can't stand fat-heavy foods. I HAVE to cut the fat rind off of meats. Etc.

For milk, my family started out at 2% when I was a kid, and switched to skim/nonfat early on. I love nonfat milk to this day. But today, trying to drink even 2% makes me feel like I'm starting a gallon challenge. I also get the same farty/grumbly stomach after eating ice cream, and is one reason I generally avoid sweets.

So when you say you can't stand milk, do you mean all the fat levels? Because I think you might be trying 1-2% or whole milk and thinking it'll affect you the same as nonfat.
posted by Evilspork at 10:59 PM on June 15, 2012

P.S. - I should have explained, the gallon challenge is hard because you have to drink whole milk, and the fats make anyone vomit. I could chug a gallon of nonfat easy peasey.
posted by Evilspork at 11:00 PM on June 15, 2012

I've had problems adding too much (totally hypoallergenic) nutritious liquid to my stomach at once when I've gulped down what are medically called sip feeds. Stomachs, in my understanding, do a complex job of separating out how quickly foods go into the bowel. A bunch of liquid which still needs digesting might mess everything up.
posted by ambrosen at 4:28 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cheerios also give me this problem. I think it's the oats.
posted by gjc at 6:10 AM on June 16, 2012

Try rice milk or hemp milk. Between the two, I think hemp milk tastes better. (especially Living Harvest brand)

Also have you tried switching your cereal brands? You could have problems with wheat or oats. Try Corn Chex? Gluten-free Rice Crispies?
posted by Aliera at 10:26 AM on June 16, 2012

Do you have the same problems if you eat the cereal dry? Worth a try just to rule out something in the cereal causing it.
posted by telophase at 6:29 PM on June 16, 2012

Do you have the bad reaction to goat milk also? to Lactaid milk? skim Lactaid milk?

Back before non-dairy milks were widely available, my lactose-intolerant grandfather ate his cereal with powdered non-dairy coffee creamer that he mixed up beforehand with water. Do non-dairy creamers affect you badly as well?
posted by nicebookrack at 7:07 PM on June 16, 2012

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