# Does milk drinking prevent long-term chemical poisoning?

I have heard some rumors that drinking milk prevents chemical poisoning. I have done a bit research and some sources confirm that.

Corrosive Poisons

The best first aid is to dilute the poison as quickly as possible. For acids or alkalis (bases), give the patient water or preferably milk or ice cream — one (1) cup for victims under five (5) years; or one (1) to two (2) glasses for patients over five (5) years. Milk or ice cream is better than water because it dilutes and helps neutralize the poison. Water only dilutes the poison. Cornell University

In Case of Poison Ingestion: Drink Milk?

As @Jan pointed out in the case of chemical poisoning the paramedics are immediately called.

So my question is, does milk helps chemical poisoning, e.g., for people that daily work with chemicals or are working in chemical facilities (working with or be in the presence of $$\ce{HCl}$$, $$\ce{HF}$$, $$\ce{NaOH}$$, $$\ce{HNO3}$$, $$\ce{H3PO4}$$, etc.)? Or what would be beneficial? And I mean long-term exposure and not immediately threat to life or health.

• Great question. I would surmise that it primarily helps with ingested poisons and will have little effect on gaseous poisons or poisons that absorb through the skin. Oct 5 '15 at 6:39
• Milk can act as a buffer due to all the proteins dissolved. Water cannot. I think that's the gist. Whatever you do, in case of chemical poisoning immediately call the paramedics! No, seriously, immediately!
– Jan
Oct 5 '15 at 11:38
• If your question is just about the general exposure (i.e. not drinking, not pouring litres of something over your skin/in your eyes/down your nostrils) then the answer is: This level of exposure is not considered toxic, no actions are taken. It is assumed that the body can handle the chemicals.
– Jan
Oct 5 '15 at 11:58
• That can be true, but when you work in a chemical factory, limits are sometimes exceeded. Or you can accidentally inhaled some vapours. Then some preventive actions should be made, like drinking milk? Oct 5 '15 at 12:22
• Everything that strengthens your bodys immune system will help in some way. So better eat enough fresh vegetables and fruits. And for the same reason it should be better to drink human milk before any other milk. Oct 5 '15 at 15:21

This post only concerns chronic poisoning, i.e. exposure to a harmful chemical in low amounts for an extended period of time. The answer is not applicable to acute poisoning; in that case a doctor should immediately be called.

Basically there are three types of chemicals that have a harmfulness threshold to which one can be exposed over extended periods of time.

Type one includes substances such as mercury that are primarily aggregated in the body rather than excreted. In rare cases, drinking milk may enhance excretion thereby decontaminating the body. I haven’t heard of any such examples, though, and I would assume it to be a very rare case so neglegible.

Type two includes those substances that the body can actually metabolise to harmless products. This would include most protein poisons. However, the metabolism shouldn’t be enhanced by drinking milk so it will likely have a non-effect.

Type three includes those that, while they aren’t metabolised, just don’t do enough damage at low concentrations. That would basically include your list of acidic and basic substances but also non-aggregating metals at low concentrations. For these, excretion is not significantly enhanced or reduced by drinking milk so again no effect is expected.

Comparing the acute exposure to acids to the chronic one, in the former giving a person milk to drink is actively encouraged. This is because milk contains a lot of proteins that can act as buffers, increasing the body’s buffering potential and reducing the effects of the acid. The body does have more than enough buffering capabilities to cope with chronic cases though, so even there regularly drinking milk would not help.

Tl;dr: Milk is a great drink but cannot act as a type of preventive antidote.

• Can the same be said for soy juice a.k.a. soy milk? May 26 '16 at 7:16
• @Martin-マーチン I don’t know much about soy milk or hazelnut milk or any other of the milk-ersatzes, so I can’t tell you that, sorry.
– Jan
May 26 '16 at 7:57

Drinking milk won't help of course if you're breathing in carbon monoxide. So drinking anything only can help if you ingested the poison.

Whether or not milk would help more than an equal amount of water would depend on the poison ingested. It is possible that the particular poison could be actually neutralized, or it is possible that it would dissolve in the fat, thus allowing more time for other measures such as pumping the stomach out.

So if milk actually neutralizes the poison, then drinking milk would certainly help long term exposure. However if milk just dilutes the poison then over time the long term exposure would reach some steady state.

For the strong acids and alkalies that you listed chronic exposure to low amounts will do no harm. In other words for those compounds the harm will be done in minutes, and not build up in the body over years of exposure.

Another caveat here is that ingestion is the most preventable exposure. In any chemistry lab eating or drinking is against the rules.

• Thanks for the answer. You are right, most long therm poisoning will be due to inhalation. Can you provide some source to your statement: For the strong acids and alkalies that you listed chronic exposure to low amounts will do no harm. In other words for those compounds the harm will be done in minutes, and not build up in the body over years of exposure. Oct 26 '15 at 9:08

Milk has proportion of fats and For chemicals with high partition coefficient like organochlorines it follows that a certain proportion will dissolve in the fats and taken up by the body. Milk in this case will not be useful as antidote