Does Cheese Cause Gas & Cramps?

various types of cheese
An assortment of cheeses on tray (Image: Magone/iStock/Getty Images)

Humans have consumed cheese for millenia -- at least as far back as 4,000 years ago, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. Unfortunately, many people have a difficult time digesting cheese, primarily due to its milk content. Determining what is causing your painful cramping and gas can help determine if you need to eat a different type of cheese or forego it, altogether.

Cramps Caused by Gas

Gas in your digestive system can be due to several factors, but the most common cause is swallowing air gas caused by bacteria in the large intestine as the bacteria break down food during digestion, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. The expanding gas can cause painful cramping sensations due to the pressure it exerts on the intestines. Other common symptoms of gas include bloating, burping, passing gas and pain. You may not experience all those symptoms, however.

Lactose Intolerance

Dairy products, which are those derived from milk, contain a sugar known as lactose. Most people have an enzyme called lactase, which the cells of the small intestine produce, and lactase helps break down the lactose. For some people, however, the levels of lactase in their body significantly decreases as they age. In that case, they have a difficult time breaking down lactose, and they experience a range of symptoms, including gas and cramps. Other symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Because almost all cheeses contain milk, lactose intolerance is a common cause of gas and cramping when consuming cheese.

Milk Allergy

Another possible cause of cramping could be due to a milk allergy. Although food allergies are rare and affect only 1 percent of the population, according the Cleveland Clinic, milk is a common culprit in allergic reactions. Most food allergies are caused by proteins, such as casein and whey, which are the proteins in milk. The symptoms of a milk allergy are similar to lactose intolerance and include gas, cramping, bloating, pain and nausea. In addition to those symptoms, an allergic reaction can also cause hives, itchy skin, chest pain and shortness of breath. You may also experience a swelling or closure of your throat. You should immediately report any type of allergic reaction, even if it's mild, to your health care provider.

Possible Solutions

Suffering from lactose intolerance or an allergy to milk will typically produce symptoms when you consume any type of dairy products. If that is the case, switching to a cheese without lactose or a cheese that uses a dairy substitute, such as a soy-based cheese, may help ease the symptoms of gas and cramping. Taking a supplement with lactase might also help. If you only experience cramping and gas while eating cheese and you do not experience this with other dairy products, you may be having a reaction to another ingredient used in the cheese-making process, such as rennet. Rennet is an animal by-product used as binder in most cheeses. If you are unable to relieve the symptoms of gas and cramping using alternatives to cheese, or experience allergy symptoms, avoid cheese and dairy products until you can see a doctor to determine the cause.

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