More than 40 million Americans either have or are at high risk for osteoporosis. Women are affected nearly twice as often as men, especially after menopause. We’re told that consuming milk and dairy products, rich in calcium, can help prevent the onset of osteoporosis. And even though as a nation, we drink more milk than ever, osteoporosis is actually on the rise—not declining. Could dairy actually be to blame?
The abundant Standard American Diet is often the envy of the world, but countries with less access to processed food products (including dairy) have significantly fewer cases of osteoporosis (Asian and South Pacific countries, Mexico and parts of Africa, for example). A study conducted in Hong Kong in the 1990s, just as milk was gaining popularity in the country, found that calcium affected bone density most significantly in the first two years of a child’s life. After that, the effects appeared to lessen. In fact, the researchers found that those with a healthier weight and physical activity levels had the greatest bone mineral content. Another study in the UK also found that weight and activity influenced bone density more than calcium intake.
High acid foods—like dairy and meat—actually contribute to the leaching of calcium. A 1997 study found that of the nearly 80,000 participants, women who drank more than a glass of milk per day had a 45 percent higher risk of hip fractures than the women who drank less or no milk. When too much calcium is consumed by way of our excessive milk and dairy consumption, the bones absorb the excess to move it out of the blood, temporarily (high calcium levels in the blood can actually kill you). But ongoing excess calcium means the bones never get to deport the extra back into the bloodstream where it’s distributed to cells for muscle function; so instead, it is essentially removed through the urine. Add to that the hormonal changes for someone at age 70 that also accelerate the deportation of calcium out of the bones and you have yourself a hip just waiting to shatter.
Experts recommend opting for low-acid sources of calcium such as dark leafy green vegetables and nuts like almonds, and reducing the intake of dairy overall to prevent calcium excess and osteoporosis.
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