Dare to say NO to Dairy Part 1: Dispelling the Myth

Ever since I can remember, I remember being taught that dairy was an important part of a healthy diet. “Drink milk to build strong bones”, mothers have been telling their children for decades. After that, “drink milk to prevent osteoporosis”. Celebrities flaunting their milk mustaches and lean figures further drive home the notion that dairy is nature’s perfect health food… It is, right? The FDA food pyramid recommends consuming 3 or more dairy products a day… But is that recommendation really in our best interest? I am one of a growing many who think the answer to that question is a resounding “no”.

The most well-accepted potential health benefit of dairy products is bone health. However, if one goes into the literature, most studies that attempt to find such a correlation come up short. In fact, a surprising number of studies demonstrate the opposite- that increased consumption of dairy actually increases risk for osteoporosis and bone fracture [1]. In 2005, a review of 58 previously published studies concluded
    “In clinical, longitudinal, retrospective, and cross-sectional studies, neither
     increased consumption of dairy products, specifically, nor total daily
     calcium consumption has shown even a modestly consistent benefit for
     child or young adult bone health.”
Furthermore, it seems that supplementation of calcium has little to no benefit on bone health, either. So, if the calcium in milk doesn’t build strong bones, what does?

People often think of bones like rocks- bones are about as hard as rocks, and their kind of easy to forget about because we typically don’t see them. However, bones are very much alive and are always remodeling- they say you make a new skeleton every 10-12 years! This process of bone break down and bone formation is orchestrated by two types of bone cells- osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Osteoblasts are the guys that make new bone, osteoclasts destroy old bone to make room for the new stuff.

Bone health and disease isn’t solely dependent on how much calcium we take in- actually, most of us get more than we really need, yet our rates of osteoporosis are staggering in this country. Bone mineralization is also dependent on the ratio of osteoblast/osteoclast activity, as well as how much calcium we absorb and excrete. Both of these processes (cellular activity and mineral retention and absorption) are dependent on hormones, namely parathyroid hormone and calcitonin, a hormone made in the thyroid gland. Additionally, the body’s ability to absorb calcium from the food we ingest can be hindered by things like hormone imbalances, leaky gut syndrome and food sensitivities, a change in the gut’s good and bad bugs, and inflammation.

More lately than ever, research is pointing us toward a new model of osteoporosis: Inflammation. An acidic bodily environment (inflammation) increases the rate of calcium excretion in the urine. This can  be caused by a multitude of unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, drugs, eating unhealthy food, and drinking soft drinks and caffeine. So, for those of you who think you’re preventing osteoporosis by taking that calcium supplement in the morning and still engaging in an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle, I’ve got news for you: You just have really expensive urine!

So why would eating dairy cause more bone loss, as in the studies mentioned in Whitewash? This may be partially because animal protein in general is very acidic. Increased consumption of animal protein (including dairy) has been linked to an increase in bone fractures and osteoporosis, and is thought to contribute to the inflammatory environment described above. More and more we are seeing that health comes down to a healthy lifestyle, not a pill or a supplement for each and every disease. Take the steps in your life today to ensure you are healthy tomorrow.

To be continued…..


(Side note: Common does NOT equal normal!)

[1] Joseph Keon, “Whitewash: The disturbing truth about cow’s milk and your health” 2010
[2] Lanou, A “Dairy products and bone health in children and young adults: A reevaluation of the evidence,” 115 Pediatrics (2005): 736-43

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