Diarrhea and Stomach Pain After Eating Ice Cream: 4 Causes Explained.

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1 . Lactose intolerance.

Milk is the main constituent of ice cream. Lactose, the chief sugar in milk, commonly causes intolerance symptoms.

Getting diarrhea and stomach pain after eating ice cream may indicate that you have lactose intolerance.

To give you a

Lactose intolerance is the most common form of food intolerance. Interestingly, Statistics show that up to 25% of the white population has lactose intolerance (reference).

Moreover, lactose intolerance may affect up to 90% among other races such as blacks, Native Americans, and Asian Americans (reference).

Lactose intolerance is the most likely cause of diarrhea and stomach pain after eating ice cream.

But you should notice that lactose is also present in milk and other dairy products. So, you will experience diarrhea or stomach pain after consuming any dairy product and not only ice cream.

What causes lactose intolerance?

The lactose sugar needs an enzyme called (lactase) to be digested and absorbed. Lactose intolerance occurs when your small intestine cannot produce enough (lactase) (reference).

the lactase enzyme deficiency can be:

  • Primary lactase deficiency: is a hereditary disease leading to gradual loss of lactase enzyme function (most common cause).
  • Secondary lactase deficiency: due to injury to the intestinal mucosa as with gastroenteritis, celiac disease, IBD, chemotherapy, or antibiotic use.

Symptoms suggestive of lactose intolerance:

  • Diarrhea after eating ice cream and other dairy products.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Bloating and distension.
  • Passing too much gas (flatulence).
  • Nausea after eating dairy products.
  • Fullness and early satiety.
  • Vomiting can occur in severe cases.
  • Less commonly: Headache, muscle aches, joint pain, mouth ulcers, and impaired concentration (reference).

Lactose intolerance is a widespread condition. So, consider consulting your doctor if you consistently get diarrhea or stomach pain after eating ice cream.

More: What happens if you ignore lactose intolerance?

2. Irritable bowel syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common gut-related disease. It affects around 10 to 15% of the world population (reference).

IBS is a (functional) disease. It is called (functional) because NO apparent lesions or conditions appear by laboratory, radiological, or endoscopic examination.

IBS commonly causes stomach pain and diarrhea. In addition, IBS often flares up after eating certain foods (including ice cream).

What are the symptoms of IBS?

IBS is defined as recurrent abdominal pain (at least one day per week for three months). The onset of pain is associated with at least 2 of the following (reference):

  • Defecation (bowel movements): the pain either resolves or increases with bowel movements.
  • A change in stool form: with the onset of pain, the stool either becomes harder or looser.
  • A change in stool frequency: diarrhea (after eating ice cream) or constipation.

Learn How doctors diagnose IBS HERE.

After the exclusion of other diseases, we diagnose IBS based on the clinical criteria above.

IBS has many subtypes. The important subtype that can cause recurrent explosive diarrhea after eating is diarrhea-predominant IBS.

Either food or stress triggers IBS with diarrhea. IBS diarrhea after eating is related to a famous group of food called FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides And Polyols).

Common Examples of food that trigger Explosive diarrhea after eating with IBS:

  • Fermentable: means that gut bacteria break them down, producing lots of gas.
  • Oligosaccharides: refer to compounds called fructans and galacto-saccharides present in wheat, barley, rye, onion, garlic, and legumes.
  • Disaccharides: refer to the fructose sugar present in milk ice cream custard and yogurt.
  • Monosaccharides: Refers to free fructose present in Apples, pears, mangoes, cherries, watermelon, asparagus, sugar snap peas, honey, high-fructose corn syrup.
  • And
  • Polyols: sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and maltitol. These sugars are present in certain types of fruits like apples and watermelon and artificial sweeteners like artificially sweetened ice cream, gum, and alcohol.

The complete list of food that triggers IBS is here.

Consult your doctor if you think you have IBS (diarrhea and stomach pain after eating ice cream. Periods of flare-up and remission of the symptoms are more suggestive for IBS).

3. Intolerance & allergy to other ice cream constituents.

Some may complain of diarrhea after eating ice cream and not milk. In addition, selective intolerance to ice cream may indicate that you are intolerant to ice cream components other than lactose, such as artificial sweeteners, fructose sugar, and chocolate.

A long list of foods and food constituents can cause intolerance symptoms—different ice cream brands and flavors. Food allergy is another form of food reaction that can occur after you eat ice cream.

Food allergy is an immune-mediated reaction to particular food (ice cream) constituents. The differences and examples are illustrated in the below table.

Food allergy can result from eating tiny amounts of the offending food. Contrarily, food intolerance symptoms are related to the amount you eat from the offending food.

Food intoleranceFood allergy
It affects 15-20% of the populationIt affects nearly 2-5% of adults
Difficulty digesting certain types of food (not immune-mediated allergy).An immune-mediated reaction to certain foods or food components.
Causes “recurrent acute” or “chronic” attacks of diarrhea and stomach pain.Usually causes acute attacks related to the ingestion of offending food.
Intestinal symptoms: diarrhea, extensive gas, bloating, and abdominal painIntestinal symptoms are the same
No extra-intestinal symptomsExtraintestinal symptoms like rashes, urticaria, swollen lips or face, or severe life-threatening allergic reactions.
The severity of your symptoms is proportional to the amount you eat from the offending food.Even trace amounts of the offending food can produce severe symptoms.
Common offending foods:
  • Lactose intolerance (dairy products).
  • Fructose malabsorption.
  • Alcohol intolerance.
  • FODMAP intolerance (as with People with IBS).
Common offending foods: (examples)
  • Raw meat, seafood.
  • Nuts, peanut
  • Mustard.
  • Rice
  • Some vegetables and fruits.
**The above foods may be a constituent of your ice cream. So, it may cause allergic food reactions with diarrhea and stomach pain after eating ice cream.

4. Other (rare causes):

The below cause may be involved in diarrhea after eating ice cream. However, The causes bleow are either less common or produce a wide range of symptoms (not confined to diarrhea).

  • Celiac disease.
  • Crohn’s disease.
  • Bile acid diarrhea
  • Chronic functional diarrhea.
  • Ulcerative colitis.
  • Exagerated gastro-colic reflex.
  • Fat indigestion.
  • Post-cholecystectomy syndrome.
  • Psychological stress.
  • Pancreatic diseases such as chronic pancreatitis and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
  • Endocrine diseases such as hyperthyroidism.