Crohn’s Disease and Dairy Products

It is highly advisable to avoid commercially produced dairy products if you suffer from Crohn’s disease.


Dairy has been linked to causing diarrhea, abdominal pain and gas in those with Crohn’s Disease and other problems with the digestive tract.

Milk and various other dairy products tend to worsen Crohn’s disease symptoms because of:

1. Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to metabolize lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products, due to the fact that the required enzyme lactase is absent or its availability is lowered.  People with irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease have a reduced level of the lactase enzyme.

Lactose is the sugar in all milk, and it is digested by the body using an enzyme we produce called lactase. Lactase production decreases in all humans as we age, but in Crohn’s patients this enzyme might be harder to make than normal because it is primarily a product of the ileum. Since Crohn’s patients most often have inflammation in the ileum, it would make sense that Crohn’s patients might be particularly susceptible to lactose intolerance.

Without lactase, the lactose disaccharide in many dairy products cannot be absorbed through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, so it remains in the intestines. Bacteria adapt to the relative abundance of this undigested sugar and quickly switch over to lactose metabolism, which produces copious amounts of gas by fermentation.

During a flare or a relapse of the illness, the digestibility, or perhaps lack thereof, of dairy products can cause the stomach to produce more acid, which will cause pain and inflammation of the stomach lining. Dairy foods high in fats, such as whole milk, butter, and cheese, will not be completely absorbed by the small intestine, which usually narrows during a Crohn’s flare. This can lead to gas and diarrhea.

It is easy to test if you have lactose intolerance. Simply drink a glass of whole milk on an empty stomach. Gas production in the belly is the first thing you’ll notice – that is the result of bacteria digesting the lactose rather than your own lactase enzyme. Doctors test this in the office by measuring how much hydrogen you breathe out when you have had a glass of milk. After the gas comes the nausea and perhaps vomiting and diarrhea, all typical responses to undigested lactose.

Note: Lactose-intolerant Crohn’s disease patients often find that they can consume some dairy by using a product with lactase enzymes, such as Lactaid.

2. Casein in cow’s milk

there is some evidence that of the casein in cow’s milk, which comes in two types (A & B), the type A is responsible for most people’s sensitivities. In the US you cannot find out which type you’re drinking, but in New Zealand and Australia, for example, dairy farmers have started advertising which kind of casein they’re milking. Goat’s milk might be the solution to this problem, as I think goats only produce the B-type of casein.

3. An infection of the bacterium Mycobacterium Para tuberculosis


Researchers point to a persuasive body of evidence linking the bacterium, called Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), to Crohn’s disease and underscore the route of transmission into the human population through one of our most popular drinks–milk.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found how a bacterium, known to cause illness in cattle, may cause Crohn’s disease in humans. Crohn’s is a condition that affects one in 800 people in the UK and causes chronic intestinal inflammation, leading to pain, bleeding and diarrhea.

The team found that a bacterium called Mycobacterium Para tuberculosis releases a molecule that prevents a type of white blood cell from killing E.coli bacteria found in the body. E.coli is known to be present within Crohn’s disease tissue in increased numbers.

It is thought that the Mycobacterium make their way into the body’s system via cows’ milk and other dairy products.

MAP infection causes a debilitating disorder called Johne’s disease that commonly occurs in cattle throughout the world, including the United States. Cows with Johne’s share similar symptoms to people with Crohn’s. infected cows secrete the mycobacterium in their milk. Individuals with a genetic susceptibility to Crohn’s may thus pick up the disease. Supporters of the theory note that Crohn’s is most frequently found in developed countries where milk consumption is high, except in countries where milk is boiled prior to consumption–an extra measure of precaution that some suggest would be prudent today.

Since MAP is not classified as a human pathogen, meat, milk and other products from animals infected with MAP may be continually entering the human food chain. There is a wealth of evidence which appears to indicate that MAP is capable of surviving the food processing methods that we employ to protect us from disease, such as cooking and pasteurization.

An additional reason to avoid dairy products if you suffer from Crohn’s disease is that:

When milk is heated it becomes precipitated with minerals that cannot be absorbed, contributing to osteoporosis, as well as sugars that cannot be digested and fats that are toxic.

Dairy alternatives

As an alternative to products made with cows milk try rice milk, soy milk, soy cheeses, soy ice cream and soy butter. Soy products such as soymilk, soy cheese, and soy ice-cream and all totally digestible, and just as delicious.

Soy products such as soy milk, soy burgers, soy meats, and soy cheese, tempeh and tofu, are excellent sources of protein and are ideal replacements for dairy.

In general, only commercially produced dairy products are problematic for those with Crohn’s.

Raw dairy products are much better tolerated by most Crohn’s patients.

Click here to learn which dairy products are recommended for Crohn’s patients.



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