The truth behind dairy intake and bone strength

October 5, 2015

As scientists have learned more about milk and other dairy foods, the picture of their nutritional value has become more complex. It seems that there's more to keeping your bones strong than just drinking milk or taking calcium. We'll go over the newest research.

The truth behind dairy intake and bone strength
  • For years, it was nutritional gospel: for stronger bones, drink lots of milk, and if you dislike dairy, take calcium pills. But the science supporting this advice is surprisingly shaky.
  • There's no dispute that your bones need calcium, which makes up about 65 percent of your skeleton. Most of the calcium in your diet goes toward rebuilding bones, but your body also uses it to build healthy nerves, regulate heart rhythm, and perform other important functions.
  • If your diet doesn't provide enough calcium, your body borrows some from your bones. Osteoporosis, the "fragile bone disease," occurs when bones lose calcium faster than they can replace it.
  • Current dietary guidelines advise all adults to consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day until age 50, when the recommendation jumps to 1,200 milligrams. Dairy foods are among the richest sources of calcium, so you might assume that milk drinkers have the strongest bones, right? Not exactly.
  • Studies have failed to consistently show that dairy devotees have healthier bones. In fact, several large studies have found that milk drinkers have just as many bone breaks as people who eschew dairy. For example, when Harvard researchers examined the diets of more than 72,000 post-menopausal women over an 18-year period, they found barely any difference in the risk of hip fractures among women who drank at least a glass or two of milk every day and those who sipped one glass or less per week.
  • In another study of nearly 61,000 subjects, Swedish scientists found that women who consumed 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day were just as likely to sustain broken hips as women who got less than 400 milligrams.

Use these bone-strengthening tips

  • Weight-bearing exercise like walking or jogging strengthens bones and can cut the risk of fractures by more than 40 percent among older women.
  • It's also critical to get adequate vitamin D, which helps the body absorb and retain calcium. Spending a few minutes in the sun each day stimulates the natural production of vitamin D, but supplements can help as well.
  • Finally, don't smoke or abuse alcohol. Both habits seem to weaken bones.

It seems that a high-calcium diet isn't the only thing required for strong, healthy bones. If you're looking to avoid breaks or fractures, other nutrients are just as important, and exercise plays a huge part as well. Use these tips to do what's right for you and keep your bones solid.

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