Dairy industry media marketing campaigns tell us that “no matter what your age, dairy’s nutrients are an essential part of promoting good bone health,” the National Dairy Council’s website claims.1 There is “overwhelming scientific evidence,” says the Council, that consuming milk, cheese and yogurt throughout your life “may delay or minimize age-related bone loss and thereby decrease the risk for osteoporosis.” The reason cited, of course, is that dairy contains calcium.
Parents are urged by the dairy industry to feed children ages two to eight a minimum of two cups of milk or equivalent milk products each day to insure adequate bone growth.2 This amount is a lot of dairy for little bodies to absorb! In answer to these industry claims, scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health posted on its website this rebuttal: “Calcium is important. But milk isn’t the only, or even best, source.” These experts note how high intakes of dairy “can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer,” and how “dairy products can be high in saturated fat as well as retinol (vitamin A) which at high levels can paradoxically weaken bones.”3
Hip fractures may be the most common type of bone injury experienced by the elderly, particularly women at any age. Yet, not only is there little persuasive evidence that milk and dairy protect against fractures, the weight of study evidence shows just the opposite.
To illustrate what I mean, a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed 72,337 postmenopausal women for 18 years to chronicle their dietary habits and incidence of hip fractures. Neither the women’s total calcium intake nor their level of milk consumption “was associated with a lower risk of hip fracture.”4
Still another study, this one involving 77,761 women ages 34 through 59 years, who were monitored over a 12 year period, “found no evidence that higher intakes of milk or calcium from food sources reduce fracture (hip or forearm) incidence.”5
Nor does milk consumption, despite what the dairy industry implores us to believe, improve the bone health of children. This was the conclusion of a 2005 review of the evidence published in the authoritative journal, Pediatrics.6
Physically active adolescent girls who consume the most dairy products actually experience double the risk of stress fractures compared to young women who aren’t big dairy consumers.7 The bone degeneration disease known as osteoporosis is a significant problem in the U.S. and many other countries. More than one in three British women, for instance, currently suffers from osteoporosis.8 Even though American women are thought to consume as much or more calcium as any group of women in the world, they still record some of the highest osteoporosis rates.9
For people over the age of 50, one in two women will break a bone as a result of osteoporosis having weakened them. “To assume that osteoporosis is due to calcium deficiency is like assuming that infection is due to penicillin deficiency,” said Harvard University professor of nutrition, Mark Hegsted.10
Over several decades of testing the bodies of hundreds of thou-sands of people for minerals, it has been rare for us at The Hippocrates Health Institute to find persons who lack sufficient calcium in their bodies. Silica and strontium are common deficiencies relating to bone loss. Lack of resistance exercise, combined with these nutrient deficiencies, are paramount factors in creating hard tissue degeneration. Something else the dairy industry fails to alert consumers about is that the animal protein found in dairy products has an amino acid called methionine, with a high sulfur content. This protein also harbors massive amounts of phosphorous. Together, these elements impair the human body’s ability to keep calcium levels in balance, thus contributing to bone loss. So how can you protect your bone health throughout life with-out dairy products?
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: “You can decrease your risk of osteoporosis by reducing sodium, increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, exercising, and ensuring adequate calcium intake from plant foods such as kale, broccoli, and other leafy green vegetables and beans.”11 Calcium from plants is much more easily absorbed by your body than calcium from dairy products. Calcium isn’t ‘cowcium,’ I’ve heard it said, and you can get rich and nutritionally absorbable levels of it from not only kale and broccoli, but from sunflower seeds, almonds, and pistachio nuts.
In China, with its relatively low dairy consumption rates, most calcium in the diet comes from vegetables and as a consequence, osteoporosis hasn’t come close to the levels seen in Western dairy-diet cultures. As Professor Colin Campbell has observed in his land-mark book, The China Study, “the association between the intake of animal protein and fracture rates appears to be as strong as that between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.”12
The more dairy and meat you eat, the more this protein load strains your kidneys, and that will leach calcium from your body. You should also know that certain foods and drinks high in oxalic acid (such as coffee and chocolate) impede the absorption of calcium by your body.13
Also keep in mind that natural sunlight providing vitamin D is important to proper calcium absorption. So absorb some sunlight in modest amounts whenever you can, and while you are doing that, engage in some form of fast walking and other vigorous muscle and bone enhancing exercises. If this had been a trial of dairy industry marketing claims and the evidence for a link between various dairy products and bone health was weighed by a jury, I think the verdict would be: Guilty of false advertising.
If this had been a trial of evidence associating hip and other fractures along with osteoporosis to dairy consumption, once again I know a jury would return a verdict of Guilty as charged.
- National Dairy Council. www.nationaldairycouncil.org/FAQ/Pages/FAQHome.aspx.
- “Calcium and Milk: The Bottom Line.” Harvard School of Public Health. www.hsph. harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-and-milk/
- Feskanich D. Et al. “Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospec-tive study among postmenopausal women.” Am J Clin
- Nutr. 2003 Feb;77(2):504–11. Feskanich D. Et al. “Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study.” Am J Public Health. 1997 Jun;87(6):992–7.
- Lanou AJ. Et al. “Calcium, dairy products, and bone health in children and young adults: a reevaluation of the evidence.” Pediatrics. 2005;115:736–743.
- Sonneville KR. Et al. “Vitamin D, Calcium, and Dairy Intakes and Stress Fractures Among Female Adolescents.” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012 Mar 5 (Epub ahead of print.)
- Anne Karpf. “Dairy monsters.” The Guardian (UK). Dec. 12, 2003. www.guardian. co.uk/lifestyle/2003/dec/13/foodanddrink.weekend.
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “Health Concerns about Dairy Prod-ucts.” www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/health-concerns-about-dairy-products.
- Campbell, Colin. The China Study. 2006 (BenBella: Dallas)
- Harland B. Hecht A. “Grandma Called It Roughage.” FDA Consumers Publication 78–2087. U.S. Food & Drug Administration.