Can dairy cause IBS?

Having trouble with your gut? This must be your IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) that makes sure you remember it is still part of your life.   

This time, what you ingested could explain why your IBS came back. Ice cream? the milk in your coffee? Or maybe the butter you spread on your toasts?

Wondering if dairy products are the cause of IBS is not unusual. Many people suffering from stomach and intestine problems come to the conclusion that milk-based food or drinks are the cause of their condition.

Cutting out dairy products then seems to be the only solution.

Is it IBS or lactose intolerance?

The problem with problems linked to dairy products is that symptoms may be misleading. A diagnosis of IBS or lactose intolerance could show similar symptoms like bloating in your gut, excess gas, diarrhea or abdominal pain.

Nowadays, IBS is not a condition that is fully understood by doctors. The complexity and the width of symptoms make it difficult to embrace the syndrome in its entirety.

Thus, people may think they suffer from a dairy triggered IBS when they actually are the subject of lactose intolerance.

Milk and dairy can cause many effects on the body. Not everybody can actually digest dairy as it requires lactase, an enzyme the body usually produces to break a special protein contained in milk : lactose.

Lactose intolerance is the difficulty for some people to digest milk-based products. Initially lactase was an enzyme that stopped being produced by the body when growing up, as it was only required for babies. About 5,000 to 10,000 years B.C.E. cattle breeders started to consume milk and dairy as adults, thus creating a natural selection for those who could digest lactose.

IBS and dairy in your diet

Having IBS doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid drinking milk. If some patients with IBS actually need to cut dairy off their diet in order to spare their conditions, it mustn’t be the general rule for everyone with IBS.

Several studies have been led to check the correlation between IBS and lactose intolerance.

First, let’s state one important fact: beside the syndrome, IBS patients don’t show any deficiency of any kind in general diagnostic tests, like blood tests, colonoscopy or biopsy.

It clearly means that evaluations of the conditions are mostly based on what patients assert which can be highly subjective.

Still, several trials were conducted trying to link lactose and IBS. The results showed by some studies was that the risk of lactose intolerance could be increased by IBS-D (Irritable Bowel Syndrome with diarrhea), depending on the amount of dairy consumed. Other studies gave different results that IBS and lactose malabsorption had no connection. What was different? The population tested were from different parts of the world.

However, if both IBS and lactose intolerance are very common, the patients’ perception of how lactose affects them is not confirmed by scientific finding.


It is hard to conclude on this subject as no global study has been conducted on it. We just have partial data, from different locations and people, with different genes and microbiomes.


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