Do We Need Milk When We Are Young To Avoid Osteoporosis?
I don’t know about you but when I was young I hated having to drink that warm milk in those third pint bottles that they used to give us at school.They thought they were helping us to get more calcium into our bones so that we would grow up to have stronger bones and I was made to feel so guilty that I hated it so much. However NOW it seems it was more helpful to my growing bones to not drink it! Research has found that the lowest incidence of bone fracture is found in those countries where the least dairy products are consumed. In 1994 Cumming and Klineberg in the American Journal of Epidemiology Vol 139 No 5, had research published that had investigated risk factors for hip fractures in the elderly. They found that early consumption of dairy products was associated with increased risk of hip fracture in old age. In 1997 in the American Journal of Public Health by Feskanich, Willett et al, a study was published that found that those who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods such as milk broke more bones in their lives than those who rarely drank milk.
We do need Calcium but we should not try to get it from eating a lot of dairy foods or drinking a lot of cow’s milk.
Why Milk May Be Harmful To Our Bones
In a cup of milk there is around 300 mg of Calcium. It has not been found by many scientific studies that we really don’t absorb much of this calcium – particularly if it is pasteurised – and furthermore it actually robs the bones of the calcium they need! This happens because when we ingest any protein – including milk – it makes the body more ‘acid’ and this makes the body in turn try to neutralise this acidity. The most ready source of calcium in the body is that found in the bones so it is to the bones that the body turns when it wants to neutralise excessive acidity. Hence we drink milk and our body takes calcium from the bones and we excrete it in urine.
Cow’s milk contains three times the amount of protein than found in human milk. When a calf is weaned, it never drinks milk again. We go on to drink vast quantities of it all our lives, however!
Pasteurising milk increases further its acidifying effects but drinking raw milk is thought to give other health problems so that isn’t necessarily the answer either.
So What Should We Drink?
Unsweetened almond milk is alkalising as opposed to the acidifying nature of cow’s milk. Rice milk or soya milk may be better for us than cow’s milk.
Is Cow’s Milk Harmful In Any Other Way?
A Swedish group of researchers Michaelsson, Wolk, Langenskiold et al were interested to find out whether higher milk consumption was associated with early death and fractures in men and women. The findings of their study was published in the British Journal of Medicine in 2014; 349. Those who drank high amounts of milk had higher mortality (death rate) in one group of women and one group of men and with higher fracture incidence in a group of women. Whilst more research needs to be done, it will be interesting to see what happens in the future. The pattern found in this study was not observed in those who had a high intake of fermented milk products however, such as yoghurt.
A theory is that a substance called galactose in milk may be responsible for this oddity because some children are born without the enzymes necessary to detoxify galactose in milk so they have an excess of galactose in their blood which can cause bone loss, even in children. Therefore they are wondering whether it is possible that if we as normal adults drink too much milk, maybe for some of us there is just not enough of the enzyme in our bodies to detoxify that amount of galactose and we end up with bone loss in our bones and other health issues. Galactose taken in the equivalent of 2 glasses of milk has been linked with shortening life span of animals tested and can cause inflammation and brain degeneration.
The researchers followed men and women for 20 years and found that women who drank more milk had more heart disease, cancer and higher rates of death for each glass of milk that they drank. Three glasses per day was found to be associated with nearly twice the risk of premature death and they had many more hip fractures and bone fractures generally. Men did not have more fractures but those that drank a lot of milk had a higher rate of death.
This obviously conflicts with previous research that told us to drink more milk so we could prevent fractures and it is a ‘healthy’ food for us. It may be for some but not for all and these ideas are interesting but require a lot more research as yoghurt and cheese also contain galactose.
The conclusion is that the galactose content of food and its implications on human health should be carefully evaluated, so please don’t suddenly stop all dairy produce. These are interesting things to think about but like most areas of food, moderation in all things is a good idea and if you really don’t like milk, stop feeling guilty that you are missing out on a valuable source of calcium.
Other Sources of Calcium
Try spinach, kale, okra, soybeans, white beans, sardines, salmon, rainbow trout, fortified drinks, fruit such as figs and oranges, almonds, sesame seeds. Don’t forget we need vitamin D to help our bodies to absorb calcium.
Other Ways To Beat Osteoporosis
Weight bearing exercises – skipping, jumping, running, walking – in fact any exercise that makes us put pressure on our bones. Cycling and swimming are great exercises but they do not put the same stress on bones and are less effective in preventing osteoporosis.