Love them or hate them, dairy products are a food staple for many different cultures around the world. Specifically, milk; that sweet, thick, nectar that just a generation ago was labeled as one of the healthiest beverages for all aged individuals to consume. Milk is commonly thought to help "maintain healthy bones". But really, how true is that statement?
One of the main reasons milk is believed to benefit bones is because of its calcium content. However, the "calcium for bone health" myth has been fairly well debunked. Dietary calcium has been shown -- in the form of dairy specifically -- to have no effect on the risk of bone fractures. Yes, you read that right, dietary calcium does not play a role in preventing bone fractures. If you drink milk just because you think the calcium is helping your bones, you might as well stop.
Some studies do show a positive trend toward better bone health with dairy consumption, but I will argue that it's likely from protein in the milk, and not the calcium. Long-term consumption of good quality protein sources (poultry, fish, eggs, and legumes) leads to decreased bone fracture risk [2, 3].
So, we've determined that milk isn't that great for bone health, but are you ready for the real kicker? High milk consumption can increase overall mortality in women by 93% compared to low milk consumption. This works out to a 15% increased risk of death (from any cause) per cup of milk per day . Of course these study results should be interpreted with caution since self-reported milk consumption measurements are less-than-ideal for research accuracy.
The question remains, how do I improve my bone health? The best way to prevent fractures and improve overall bone health is to stay active. Weight bearing activity helps build bones and prevent falls by improving balance and improving muscular strength. Stick to a Mediterranean-style diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, legumes) as this has been linked to lower fracture risk . Also, stop thinking that you need to get calcium for your bones, and start thinking you need to live an overall healthy lifestyle, with a whole foods-based diet and lots of exercise.
Think twice about your milk consumption; it's not as helpful to your bone health as you may have thought.
Thanks for reading!