It's one of the strangest - and potentially grossest - challenges out there. But what happens when you drink milk? Why does it make you throw up (and is Ben going to try it)?
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Have you heard of this gallon of milk challenge before? Here’s the idea: you try to drink a gallon of milk and hold it down for an hour without puking. Sounds… unnecessary, right? I mean, it’s called a challenge, but you don’t win anything (I think).
Still, thousands of people have tried – and failed – at this endeavor. If you’ve already heard of this, then you’ve probably heard it’s impossible. (Spoiler alert: it’s not, it’s just really hard.) So what makes drinking milk difficult?
Let’s begin with the basics. Drinking a gallon of anything in an hour can be hazardous. Even a gallon of water can be fatal if you drink it quickly. Too much water overloads the circulatory system and the kidneys, dilutes blood electrolytes and can cause cells to swell, potentially causing brain damage or death.
So it’s not surprising that a gallon of milk is also bad business, stomach-wise. Most people who attempt it vomit. There are a few proposed causes for this condition.
You’ll often hear people blame lactose for the – ah, puketitude, let’s call it – of milk. Lactose is essentially milk sugar, and your body can only process so much of it at a time. You need the enzyme lactase to deal with lactose. The idea here is that people who are lactose intolerant can’t process any lactose, and they may throw up from just one glass of milk.
But nutritionists like Dr. Sarah Ash at North Carolina State University point out that lactose intolerance is “a problem of the large intestine, not the stomach”. Since lactose is digested and absorbed in the small intestine, the trouble doesn’t really hit until it passes to the large intestine, where it’s consumed by bacteria, producing diarrhea and gas. Both unpleasant in their own ways, but nothing that would stop you from holding the milk down.
Then, there’s calcium. Milk contains a lot of calcium – about 300 mg per 8-ounce glass. A Tums chewable tablet contains about 200 mg of available calcium.
So drinking a gallon of milk is like downing 25 Tums tablets. It messes up the acid balance in the stomach, giving your stomach another reason to consider puking. And don’t get me started on the casein.
The most likely culprit, however, is surprisingly simple: it’s just stomach size. The average stomach can hold about a ½ gallon of, y’know, whatever. More than that and you run the risk of triggering the stretch receptors in your stomach, which can induce vomiting.
There are a few people with the ability to complete this challenge, like professional competitive eaters. But for most of us, this is a pipe dream that could quickly turn messy.
So while chugging a gallon of milk may be more difficult than chugging water, it turns out that drinking a gallon of anything this quickly just isn’t a great idea. Unless you’re Takeru Kobayashia, Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas or one of the other gustatory greats.
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