Is Milk healthy or necessary for bone health?
Ever look at kids today and compare them to pictures of your ancestors from the early 1900s. Why were people back then so much better looking- Faces that are broad, well-formed and noble, well-defined jawline, straight teeth, broad foreheads. Why were people in the past more attractive.
It’s probably because they started life with an abundance of nutrient dense foods that helped their bones grow to their full genetic potential.
Milk was a staple of American households of the past. It was no secret; people knew that healthy kids require an abundance of nutrients in their formative years. People knew that milk was the leading food for kids that would help grow them healthy and strong.
Bone health is vital during formative years. Bone is a living tissue that is continually being replaced over time. Younger people (i.e. infants, children, and young adults) build up more bone than is being lost or reabsorbed. Eventually, peak bone mass is reached around the age of 30-35. After that, our bones start losing more mass than we are building up. Because of this, it’s important to reach the highest possible peak bone mass during our formative years we can so we can maintain strong bones in later life.
Why nutrient absorption is important during formative years
It’s been well known that milk plays a vital role in bone health. Milk is the leading source for bone enhancing nutrients like calcium, and milk is the best dietary source of calcium. Milk has also been proven in many scientific studies to help reduce incidences of osteoporosis.
Interestingly though not everyone thinks milk is so effective. Let’s dive deeper and see if there is any truth to these claims
Addressing the Misinformation
It always puzzles me how milk opponents will try to say that milk causes osteoporosis when science and research has clearly and overwhelmingly shown that milk has a positive effect on bone health. Milk has been shown to be a great tool in preventing the development of osteoporosis.
There are basically 2 threads of misinformation flouting around the internet that I keep reading on this topic:
1. Milk and pH balance – Milk acidifies your body and depletes your bones. You might see comments such as:
“Milk depletes calcium from your bones… Studies have actually found a link between high dairy consumption and osteoporosis. Why? Because like all animal protein, milk acidifies the body’s pH which in turn triggers a biological correction. The calcium in the milk itself is rendered useless because it combines with phosphorus (also in milk) which blocks the absorption of calcium.”
“Like all animal protein, milk acidifies the body pH which in turn triggers a biological correction.”
False – My Response
This is blatantly false, and takes little research to uncover that this is so. Milk is actually one of the most pH neutral beverages you can drink besides water. The pH of milk as about 6.3-6.8. Most other beverages are much more acidic: vegetable juice (3.9-4.3), beer (4.0), Pepsi (2.49), Gatorade (2.9), red wine (3.4-3.5), tomato juice (4.1-4.6), apple juice (4.0), PowerAde (2.75), or Minute maid Orange juice (2.80). You can see a full list at this website here
The pH of beverages is important. You don’t want to consume an overly acidic diet. The kidneys are responsible for the majority of acid-base regulation but can excrete urine no lower than a pH of 5. This means that a 330mL can of cola, for example, usually ranging in pH from 2.8 – 3.2 would need to be diluted 100 fold before being excreted. Instead of producing 33L of urine from one can of cola, the body relies on buffers to neutralize the acid. You are really taxing your bodies systems by consuming more acidic beverages.
Milk is one of the most pH neutral things you can drink. Interestingly nature made sure that milk would not overly tax your bodies systems by making a very digestible food.
There have been studies to whether there is any truth to the above statements about milk and acid balance:
Studies have shown that milk neither produces acid upon metabolism nor cause metabolic acidosis. (Source)
In sharp opposition to experimental and clinical evidence, it has been alleged that proteins, particularly those from animal sources, might be deleterious for bone health by inducing chronic metabolic acidosis which in turn would be responsible for increased calciuria and accelerated mineral dissolution. This claim is based on an hypothesis … dietary proteins are as essential as calcium and vitamin D for bone health and osteoporosis prevention (Source)
Stop drinking acidic beverages, they are making your body work harder. Drink beverages that are easier for your body to digest like water and milk.
2. Studies have shown that in countries with high consumption of dairy, there are high incidences of bone fractures.
“Many scientific studies contradict the conventional wisdom that milk and dairy consumption help reduce osteoporotic fractures. Surprisingly, studies demonstrating that milk and dairy products actually fail to protect bones from fractures outnumber studies that prove otherwise. Even drinking milk from a young age does not protect against future fracture risk but actually increases it. Shattering the “savings account” calcium theory, Cumming and Klineberg report their study findings as follows:
“Consumption of dairy products, particularly at age 20 years, was associated with an increased risk of hip fracture in old age. (“Case-Control Study of Risk Factors for Hip Fractures in the Elderly”. American Journal of Epidemiology. Vol. 139, No. 5, 1994).
False – My Response
Sounds convincing right, yet there are numerous studies that prove otherwise. Interestingly the “studies” that people are referring to are observational studies which do not take into account other factors or variables. Just because people in countries with high per capita consumption may have higher incidence of bone fractures, it doesn’t mean that milk consumption is to blame. It could be from a variety of other factors that negatively affect bone health.
There are many things that affect bone health, including genetics, physical activity, body weight, smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke, alcohol use, hormone levels, and medications. If any of those risk factors are more common in countries that have higher dairy consumption, then the link between dairy and osteoporosis may be nothing more than a coincidence.
Remember the “science” that “proved” that consuming high levels of fat increased our risk for diabetes and heart disease. It was Ancel Keys observational studies that “proved” this. It is pretty well known these days that Key’s observational study was incorrect. Observing information on 2 variables does not mean that these 2 variables correlate. Read more here in my article about Ancel Keys and if eating fat is bad.
There are numerous studies that prove otherwise. (Source) Here are some, do a Google search for others:
- In a randomized study of over 700 adolescent Chinese females (10-12 yr), those that received calcium-fortified milk at school over a two-year period had significant increases in total body bone mineral content and bone mineral density, as well as height.
- Supplementing females (10-12 yr) with low dietary calcium intake with cheese to provide 1000 mg/d calcium was associated with a greater gain in bone mineral content than with a tablet containing 1000 mg/d calcium.
- Adolescent females receiving calcium supplementation and those with a high consumption of dairy products both showed increases in bone mineral density of the hip and forearm, but only the high dairy consumers also increased bone mineral density in their spine.
At this point, you may be getting confused, and studies seem to make it unclear whether milk supports healthy bones or not as there seems to be evidence either way. Here is a common sense approach.
Just look at what bone your bones are made of.
Bones are made up of a protein called collagen and hydroxyapatite, a mineral compound made from calcium and phosphorus. Our bodies cannot manufacture calcium or phosphorus, so these bone-building minerals must be provided by the diet.
Milk actually has all of these required bone building materials.
Our bodies need calcium, and interestingly enough, milk is the best food source for calcium. Not only is the amount of calcium in a food important, it is the bioavailability of that nutrient source. Interestingly enough the calcium in milk is extremely bioavailable.
Calcium absorption from milk and other dairy products is about 32%, whereas calcium absorption from vegetables ranges from about 5%- Connie M. Weaver, PhD
If you don’t consume enough calcium your body will pull calcium out of your bones. 99% of calcium in your body is stored in bones and teeth. This is what contributes to osteoporosis.
Being that bones are also made up of phosphorous it’s also important to get phosphorous from your diet. Phosphorus is the next most abundant mineral in the body after calcium. These 2 important nutrients (calcium and phosphorous) work closely together to build strong bones and teeth. About 85% of the body’s phosphorus is in bones and teeth. Phosphorus is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, and zinc.
Most people get plenty of phosphorus in their diets. But interestingly, the mineral is found in milk and is a great dietary source of phosphorous. Researchers say the two elements (calcium and phosphorous) have been shown to be co-dependent for bone health.
In order to maximize the amount of calcium your body can absorb, Vitamin D is has been shown to be very helpful in maximizing calcium absorption. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bone and to prevent hypocalcemia tetany.
Vitamin D is also needed for bone growth and bone remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or shape incorrectly. Most health professionals today will recommend taking Vitamin D with Calcium to maximize calcium absorption. And milk is a very good source of Vitamin D.
Another essential nutrient for bone health is magnesium. Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients that your body needs to maintain proper function. Magnesium is essential in maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, keeping a healthy immune system, maintaining proper heart rhythm, and building strong bones.
One doctor is promoting magnesium as being just as important to bone health as calcium:
Most people think that calcium is the most important factor in bone health. Some are now realizing that vitamin D is also a necessary component. However, it’s not well known that magnesium is necessary to convert vitamin D into its active form so that it can turn on calcium absorption.
What about calcium? Magnesium stimulates the hormone calcitonin, which helps to preserve bone structure by drawing calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones. This action helps lower the likelihood of osteoporosis
The effectiveness and benefits of calcium in preventing and treating osteoporosis are enormously impaired in the absence of adequate levels of magnesium. Magnesium keeps calcium dissolved in the blood. Too much calcium along with too little magnesium can cause some forms of arthritis, kidney stones, osteoporosis – Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. (Source)
Surprised yet? Milk is one of the best sources of magnesium.
Protein is also just as essential for healthy bones as calcium, phosphorous, vitamin D, and Magnesium and plays a role in bone health. The following study found:
Dietary proteins are as essential as calcium and vitamin D for bone health and osteoporosis prevention (Source)
Dr. Weston A. Price, a researcher and dentist in the early 1900’s, studied many cultures and the benefits of a high protein diet.
Dr. Price found that groups on high meat diets–including Alaskan Eskimos–had a high immunity to tooth decay, were sturdy and strong, and virtually free from degenerative disease. Groups subsisting mainly on plant foods were less robust and had more tooth decay. Pre-Columbian skeletons of American Indians whose diets consisted largely of meat show no osteoporosis, while those of Indians on largely vegetarian diets indicate a high incidence of osteoporosis and other types of bone degeneration. The implication of Dr. Price’s research and other anthropological studies is that high meat diets protect against osteoporosis. (Source)
Lactose can help calcium absorption
A lot of people hate on lactose, but there are studies that found that lactose can actually help improve calcium absorption:
Lactose has been recognized as an enhancer of calcium absorption. When compared with other types of non-absorbable sugars, lactose did have a positive (P < 0.05) effect on calcium absorption in humans. Unhydrolyzed lactose also appears to be utilized as a prebiotic to support the growth of health-promoting gut flora, which is recognized as an enhancer of calcium absorption. Thus, both hydrolyzed and unhydrolyzed forms of lactose appear to be positively involved in enhancing calcium absorption in mammals. (Source)
Milk is the best source of Dietary nutrients for your bones
As in many types of systems, there is no one key component that is the key to proper bone health, but instead there are many different essential components working together. Many nutrients are required for healthy bones. The science has shown that as calcium, phosphorous, vitamin D, and Magnesium are all needed and all play a role in bone health. Protein is also important.
Milk is one of the only food sources that has all of these necessary components needed for good bone growth and health. What other beverage give your body as many nutrients as milk while being in an extremely bioavailable form. These nutrients are ready to be used by your body as soon as you drink it.
If you think about it, milk is nature’s perfected medium for nutrient transference. Milk was designed by nature to transfer the essential nutrients for life. Everything your body needs to grow, develop, and replenish itself is in milk. Research is only beginning to uncover this and how all the components work together.
Milk is the best thing you can drink for your bones. There’s no bones about it – Milk gives life.
What are your thoughts, comment below