Stress and foods are the main triggers for people with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, which can experience a bloated belly, flatulence, abdominal pain and cramps, constipation, diarrhea or alternating constipation and diarrhea. The trigger foods with IBS can vary from one person to another. Gassy foods, such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, as well as foods with a high short-chain fermentable carbohydrates, such as apples, wheat, onions, garlic and high-fructose corn syrup, are common culprits for most IBS sufferers. Several compounds found in cheese and other dairy could also trigger your IBS symptoms.
Lactose intolerance can occur in people with or without irritable bowel syndrome. If you have IBS and have symptoms when you eat cheese, some of your symptoms could be due to the lactose found in different cheese, especially if you experience diarrhea, bloating and flatulence. Most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate the small amounts of lactose found in cheese, but others are very sensitive and can react to even traces of lactose. For example, fresh cheese such as cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, cream cheese and fresh mozzarella usually contain more lactose compared to aged cheese, such as cheddar, edam, gouda or Swiss.
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Casein is one of the protein found in dairy products, especially in cheese, milk, ice cream and yogurt. Your IBS symptoms after eating cheese could be associated to an intolerance to casein, especially if you have a similar reaction when eating milk and yogurt. The casein content of different types of cheese is very similar so your IBS symptoms should be fairly similar, no matter what type of cheese you eat, if you are intolerant to the casein it contains.
Amine is a natural substance found in many foods, including avocado, tomato, balsamic vinegar, chocolate and cheese. Amines are usually associated with headaches and migraines, but they can also be associated with IBS symptoms. If amines are triggering your IBS, you are more likely to react to aged cheese. Fresh cheese, such as ricotta, cottage, quark, mascarpone and cream cheese, are safe for people with an amine intolerance.
It can be difficult to determine whether cheese is triggering your IBS symptoms because of their lactose, casein or amine content. Some people can even react to two or all of these compounds. To find out, eliminate cheese and dairy from your diet for a few weeks and then reintroduce them back to see if they trigger your symptoms again. If your are intolerant to casein, you shouldn't tolerate any cheese. If lactose intolerance is your problem, you should do better with aged cheese and if amines are the issue, you can eat fresh cheese without any problems. Consult a registered dietitian for help balancing your diet, especially if you need to eliminate cheese or dairy.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.