For many years now, milk has been considered synonymous with calcium and we have been taught that drinking milk promotes stronger bones. This incorrect idea has been reinforced to such an extent that we believe that a diet without milk is unhealthy and may lead to a severe calcium deficiency, and that inadequate dairy consumption leads to poor bone health and osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the loss of bone tissue. Bones become weak, and people are more likely to break bones in the hip, spine, and wrist. According to the data from the NIH Osteoporosis National Resource Center, in the U.S., more than 40 million people either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk for developing it. However, if dairy can promote bone health as claimed, why are so many suffering from osteoporosis? It is time to take another look at the facts presented on milk.
Dairy Intake and Osteoporosis
Many factors such as age, smoking, alcoholism, gender, etc. play a role in the etiology of this disease, however nutritional factors have been of particular interest to researchers. They point out that osteoporosis is not only associated with low calcium intake, but also to other nutritional factors that result in the excessive urinary loss of calcium. They include high intake of animal protein, steroids, antibiotics, growth hormones (dairy and meat sources), caffeine and alcohol. Furthermore, besides calcium there are 19 other nutrients that are necessary for the process of bone building and maintenance. Unless these nutrients are present in our diet, consuming calcium rich foods will not be of much use to bone health.
Key Bone Building Nutrients
Calcium • Phosphorus • Chromium • Silica • Zinc
Manganese • Copper • Magnesium • Boron • Potassium
Vitamin D • Vitamin A
Epidemiological data indicates that the incidence of age-related bone loss, osteoporosis, and fractures were many times higher among the Western population than in Asian and African populations. Statistics from WHO show that osteoporosis is common in those countries that are high dairy producers and consumers (the U.S., Finland, Sweden and the U.K.). It should be noted that the intake of animal protein among these populations is also considerably higher than the Asian and African populations. If milk can promote excellent bone health, the incidence of osteoporosis should be absent or lower among dairy consumers, but statistics reveal the opposite.
Present Research On Dairy and Osteoporosis
Nutritional research as early as the 1970's showed that milk may not be a healthy drink for humans. Today, modern science has consistently proved that dairy has little effect on decreasing the incidence of osteoporosis, and studies on postmenopausal women have shown that calcium intake has little effect on bone density. According to a publication in Science magazine, there exists a large body of evidence indicating there is no association between calcium intake and bone density. The 2005 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics concludes that there is scant evidence that increasing milk or other dairy products aid in bone mineralization among children and adolescents.
Milk Calcium Facts
Dairy does not protect from osteoporosis: Acidity introduced by milk and milk products cause calcium loss, and despite its high calcium content, cow's milk is shown to promote osteoporosis and hip fractures.The incidence of osteoporosis is highest in countries that are chief dairy producers.
Milk an acid former: The sulfur-based aminoacids present in milk and other animal products promote urinary acid production and as a result significant amounts of calcium are lost in urine while neutralizing the acidity. When the acidity levels increase, our body automatically uses calcium (the alkaline reserve) to neutralize this effect. This results in leaching out of calcium from the bones to the blood and subsequent excretion in urine.
Calcium from milk is less absorbed by the body: Only 25% of calcium from cow's milk is absorbed by the body. On the other hand, absorption of calcium from dark greens such as kale, turnips, and sesame seeds is relatively higher.
Not a healthy calcium source: Milk is a source of an oxidized form of cholesterol which causes plaques and atherosclerosis. It is also a medium for growth hormones, antibiotics, virus and bacteria to reach the body. Studies have shown that long term consumption of milk leads to conditions of senile cataracts and gout in later stages of life.
Constipation: Milk calcium is one cause of constipation among Western populations besides the low intake of fruits and vegetables. The reason being, the muscles in the lower intestine cannot contract efficiently to propel the waste material out of the body due to the presence of excess calcium in their cells. An article in the journal of the American Medical Association (1974) confirms that cow's milk is one food that causes constipation. A cross over study that compared the effects of cow's milk and rice milk on children showed that there was a clear association between cow's milk and constipation in nearly one-third of children.
Other problems: Other problems associated with milk consumption include gastritis, ulceritis, chronic inflammation, allergies, nasal congestion, and ear infections.
Why is a Plant-Based Diet the Best Way to Build Bone?
Despite its rich calcium content, cow's milk is associated with osteoporosis, allergies and inflammation. The calcium package in milk comes with high protein and acidity, which triggers unwanted calcium loss from the bones. Choosing healthier alternatives of calcium such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts are recommended by health researchers. Major research journals have encouraged the idea of consuming non-dairy calcium sources such as legumes and nuts for preventing osteoporosis. Here is why plant-based food is better source of calcium and a best way to build your bones:
Alkaline forming: Although rich in protein, plant foods are not acid forming. The alkaline forming ability of wholesome and natural plant foods enhances the calcium absorbability as well as retaining bone calcium. This prevents urinary loss of calcium and also reduces the heavy demand for calcium in the body.
Ideal calcium-magnesium ratio: Consuming a variety of plant-based foods provides an ideal calcium-magnesium ratio of 2:1 that aids in optimal calcium absorption, whereas milk does not offer this ratio resulting in poor calcium absorption in the diet.
Bone-building nutrients: Plants are a natural source of bone-building nutrients such as boron, vitamin A, folic acid and strontium that are necessary for healthy bone formation. Milk is a poor source of most of the bone-building nutrients and therefore is not a good osteoporosis fighting food.
Safe source: Plant-based foods are a safer source of calcium as they are free of steroids, growth hormones and antibiotics. In addition, most plant proteins are less acid forming.
Non-allergenic: Whole, natural plant-based foods are anti-inflammatory and do not trigger allergic reactions like dairy foods can.
Healthy body weight: Plant-based unprocessed foods promote healthier body weight in normal as well as obese individuals. This huge advantage comes from the dietary fiber present in plant foods that helps normalize body weight.
Bone Health is More Than Just Calcium
Maintaining bone health depends on many factors and calcium is only one of them. In order to maintain bone health it is essential to stay physically active, get enough exposure to sunlight for vitamin D, eat a variety of natural plant-based mineral resources, and steer clear of refined and processed foods. It is proven that individuals that consume a high amount of plant-based foods such as fruits, legumes, beans, nuts and green vegetables have a higher bone density than animal-based food consumers. Plant-based foods with their high nutrient density and potential to protect against many diseases are no doubt a better choice for bone building and protecting against osteoporosis. The key is to consume a wide variety of foods to gain the best of health.