Milk and Osteoporosis

Milk and dairy products are bad for bone health. There are extensive evidences to support this. However, multi-billion dollar dairy industry has repeated its marketing message so often and so long that most people believe that dairy products are essential to bone health.

The dairy pushers pay dietitians, doctors, and researchers to endorse dairy products, spending more than $300 million annually, just at the national level, to retain a market for their products. The dairy industry provides free teaching materials to schools and pays sports stars, celebrities, and politicians to push an agenda based on profit, not public health.

Dairy industry says that, if a person consumes three glasses of milk daily, bones will be stronger and can rest assured that osteoporosis is prevented. However, they do not have evidences on their side that milk is good for bone health.

Milk Controversy

There is some controversy over whether milk is good or bad for bones. What is certain is, osteoporosis rates decline markedly as a person's weight, exercise, and caloric intake rise. Usually people who eat dairy product tend to be heavier and have higher caloric intake than those who eat fewer (or no) dairy products.

Many dairy researchers ignore this essential information. This is an attempt to design clinical studies in a way that will make it appear to have dairy is not connection to bone loss. If these factors were taken into account, the studies would show that there is no link between consumption of milk and decreased risk of osteoporosis. Doing so would bring the clinical analysis in line with the body type and life style analysis. It would also clearly show that increased dairy product consumption is correlated with increased risk for osteoporosis.

Most of studies still show no relation between lowering osteoporosis risk with drinking cow's milk anyways. Some actually indicate that milk is associated with an increased risk, like the Harvard School of Public Health study showed that eating dairy product is linked to increased risk of osteoporosis.

Regardless, what are the studies that made people conclude dairy is bad for health? Let's look at what was done in those studies.

In one study, funded by the National Dairy Council, a group of postmenopausal women were given three 8 ounce glasses of skim milk every day for two years, and their bones were compared to those of a control group of women not given the milk. The dairy group consumed 1,400 mg of calcium per day and lost bone at twice the rate of the control group (control group means the research subjects group who are not given anything).

Researchers of that experiment said, "this may have been due to the average 30% increase in protein intake during milk supplementation.... the adverse effect of increases in protein intake on calcium balance has been reported from several laboratories, including our own" (they then cite 10 other studies). Only in places where calcium and protein are eaten in relatively high quantities does a deficiency of bone calcium exist, due to an excess of animal protein. This is one study that the dairy industry won't be repeating any time soon.

After looking at 34 published studies in 16 countries, researchers at Yale University found that the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis, which included the United States, Sweden, and Finland, were those people who ate the most meat, milk, and other animal foods. This study also showed that African Americans, who eat more than 1,000 mg of calcium per day on average, are 9 times more likely to experience hip fractures than are South African blacks, whose daily calcium intake is only about 196 mg.

When compared overall, people who consume the most calcium have the weakest bones and the highest rates of osteoporosis. Harvard University's landmark Nurses Health Study, which followed 78,000 women over a 12-year period, found that the women who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk. Summarizing this study, the Lunar Osteoporosis Update (November 1997) explained: "This increased risk of hip fracture was associated with dairy calcium. ... If this were any agent other than milk, which has been so aggressively marketed by dairy interests, it undoubtedly would be considered a major risk factor."

A National Institutes of Health study at the University of California, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2001), found that "women who ate most of their protein from animal sources had three times the rate of bone loss and 3.7 times the rate of hip fractures as women who ate most of their protein from vegetable sources." Even though the researchers adjusted "for everything we could think of that might otherwise explain the relationship ... it didn't change the results." The study's conclusion: "An increase in vegetable protein intake and a decrease in animal protein intake may decrease bone loss and the risk of hip fracture."

Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000) looked at all aspects of diet and bone health and found that high consumption of fruits and vegetables positively affected bone health and that dairy consumption did not. Such findings do not surprise nutritional researchers: The calcium absorption rate from milk is approximately 30 percent, while figures for broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, and some other green leafy vegetables range from 40% to 64%.

After reviewing studies on the link between protein intake and urinary calcium loss, dairy industry researcher Dr. Robert P. Heaney found that as consumption of protein increases, so does the amount of calcium lost in the urine (Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 1993): "This effect has been documented in several different study designs for more than 70 years," he writes, adding, "The net effect is such that, if protein intake is doubled without changing intake of other nutrients, urinary calcium content increases by about 50%."

Researchers from the University of Sydney and Westmead Hospital discovered that consumption of dairy foods, especially early in life, is associated with increased risk of hip fractures in old age (American Journal of Epidemiology, 1994).

In Pediatrics (2000), published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Pennsylvania State University researchers showed that calcium intake, which ranged from 500 to 1,500 mg per day, had no lasting effect on the bone health of girls in their teens. "We (had) hypothesized that increased calcium intake would result in better adolescent bone gain. Needless to say, we were surprised to find our hypothesis refuted," one researcher explained.

In the beginning, I said that "There is some controversy raging in scientific community whether milk is good or bad for bones. What is certain in which everyone agree is, that osteoporosis rates decline markedly as body weight, exercise, and caloric intake rise."

Corroborating the researchers' concerns about poorly controlled studies, only three studies have factored caloric intake into the analysis. Two of these studies found no correlation between dairy intake and osteoporosis, but the other found a positive link; that is, the more milk, the higher the fracture risk (Harvard Nurses Study, above). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000) study cited above argued that since it's clear that total caloric intake and body weight are positively associated with bone mass, such factors are "particularly important" in any study of osteoporosis and bone mass.

After examining all the available nutritional studies and evidence, Dr. John McDougall concludes: "The primary cause of osteoporosis is the high-protein diet most Americans consume today. As one leading researcher in this area said, 'eating a high-protein diet is like pouring acid rain on your bones.'" Remarkably enough, both clinical and population studies show that milk-drinkers tend to have more bone breaks than people who consume milk infrequently or not at all. For the dairy industry to lull unsuspecting women and children into complacency by telling them to be sure to drink more milk so that their bones will be strong may make good business sense, but it does the consumer a grave disservice.

Much of the world's population does not consume cow's milk, and yet most of the world does not experience the high rates of osteoporosis found in the West. In some Asian countries, for example, where consumption of dairy foods is low, fracture rates are far lower than they are in the United States and in Scandinavian countries, where consumption of dairy products is high.

"The association between the intake of animal protein and fracture rates appears to be as strong as the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer." -- Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of China Study

Keep in mind that dairy products have no complex carbohydrates or fiber, instead they are packed with saturated fats and cholesterol. Dairy foods are linked to all sorts of other problems, too, including obesity, heart disease, and cancer, and are likely to be contaminated with antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals, including dioxin, one of the most toxic substances in the world. (On April 12, 2001, The Washington Post reported that "the latest EPA study concludes that people who consume even small amounts of dioxin in fatty foods and dairy products face a cancer risk of one in 100." These consumers may develop other problems, too, including learning disabilities and susceptibility to infections.)


"Milk, in particular, is poor insurance against bone breaks ... the healthiest calcium sources are green leafy vegetables and legumes. ... You don't need to eat huge servings of vegetables or beans to get enough calcium, but do include both in your regular menu planning."
"It is hard to turn on the television without hearing commercials suggesting that milk promotes strong bones. The commercials do not point out that only 30 percent of milk's calcium is absorbed by the body or that osteoporosis is common among milk drinkers. Nor do they help you correct the real causes of bone loss." -- Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 1

"Milk, it now seems clear, is not the solution to poor bone density. To the contrary, it's part of the problem." -- Dr. Charles Attwood

"The dairy folks, ever since the 1920s, have been enormously successful in cultivating an environment within virtually all segments of our society—from research and education to public relations and politics—to have us believing that cow's milk and its products are manna from heaven. ... Make no mistake about it; the dairy industry has been virtually in total control of any and all public health information that ever rises to the level of public scrutiny." -- Dr. T. Colin Campbell

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