In this article I am going to explain why pasteurized cow’s milk and calcium supplements are not the answer to bone health.
The dairy industry spends 300 million dollars per year to convince you that milk is the answer to osteoporosis and strong bones, but the scientific evidence is simply not there to support their claims.
Here are some facts that you may not be aware of:
Countries with the highest per capita milk consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. The highest risk of hip fractures are seen in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and the USA. These countries also consume the most milk per capita (1,2).
If milk prevented osteoporosis shouldn’t these countries have low rates of hip fractures?
The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study followed 78,000 nurses for 12 years and found that the relative risk of hip fracture was 45% higher in those women who drank two or more glasses of milk per day versus those who drank one glass or less.
If milk is not the best choice as a source for calcium, what is?
You need to be very careful about calcium supplementation. Although calcium is a very important component of bone health, to say that calcium is all you need is a very simplistic approach. There are many other minerals that are needed in addition to calcium. These include silica, magnesium, vitamin K2, and boron to name a few.
Excess calcium supplementation can lead to calcium deposits in areas of the body where you do no want it, like the coronary arteries. Arterial plaques are not just cholesterol, 90% of them are calcified as well.
A 2010 meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal concluded that calcium supplementation with or without vitamin D increased risk of heart attack by 27%. The researchers conclusion:
“Calcium supplements with or without vitamin D modestly increase the risk of cardiovascular events, especially myocardial infarction … A reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in osteoporosis management is warranted.”
So if milk isn’t the answer and calcium supplements may be dangerous then what are we to do?
Stop focusing so much on calcium. It is only one small component of bone health and maybe the current intake guidelines are too high. For instance:
Chinese peasants eating a plant-based diet consume less than 100 mg per day of calcium and have a low incidence of osteoporosis. (4)
The African Bantu people consume an average of 350 mg of calcium per day and have a low incidence of osteoporosis. Their diet is primarily plant based (5).
Eskimos consume large amounts of protein and calcium, yet they have the highest incidence of osteoporosis in the world. (5)
Excess animal protein consumption from milk and meat increases calcium excretion. (5)
In conclusion, the best way to get your calcium is through a plant-based diet. That doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian, but fruits and vegetables should be a large portion of your diet. Not only do fruits and vegetables contain calcium they also contain the other nutrients and minerals necessary for bone health. Calcium from these sources is also absorbed and assimilated by the body much better than milk or supplemental sources.
Plant-based foods with the highest amount of calcium include leafy greens, spinach, broccoli, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and raisins.
Here is the bottom line: Get most of your nutrition from plant based whole foods in their original form and exercise 5-6 times per week. It is amazing how following these two simple rules can lower your risk of so many health problems.
PS: If you are someone who is not going to eat a plant-based diet and insist on taking a calcium supplement then you need to take it in the form of a whole food vitamin. For more information about these email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Kanis JA, Johnell O, De Laet C, et al. (2002) International variations in hip fracture probabilities: implications for risk assessment. J Bone Miner Res 17:1237.
3. Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Baron JA, et al. Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2010;341:c3691.