Calcium And Osteoporosis - Is Dairy Really Good For You?

Old age is, without a doubt, a gift. After decades of facing all of life’s struggles, you get to sit back, reminisce on your glory days and simply enjoy life. However, your aging body might not let you have as much fun as you would like. One of the most common conditions that definitely dampen the fun of old age is osteoporosis. This is a disease that causes weakening of bones making it easy to get bone fractures or abnormal curvature of the spine. The age-old belief that milk is good for your bones has led many people to believe that dairy could actually help prevent or at least manage osteoporosis. So, is there any truth to this belief or is it just superstition and tales parents told kids to get them to drink milk?

What Exactly Is Osteoporosis?

In order to understand whether or not dairy is good for your bones, you first need to understand what osteoporosis is. It is a degenerative condition of the bones causing weakness and increased brittleness. The bones lose layers of tissue with the processes meant to restore what is lost being at an all-time low. This is usually either because of calcium and vitamin D deficiency or simply hormonal changes that occur with age.

Osteoporosis is more common in women than in men. This is because their bones rely on estrogen for strength and regular reinforcement with new bone cell layers. When menopause hits and estrogen levels take a nose dive, the bones slowly lose tissue and progressively weaken. However, elderly men are also just as likely to suffer osteoporosis but theirs is usually due to nutritional deficiencies.

Does Dairy Help Aging Bones?

Fundamentally, bones are nothing more than large collections of calcium. In fact, scientists have discovered that up to 99% of all the calcium consumed is stored in bones and teeth. This calcium is used by bone cells referred to as osteoblasts to lay the bone matrix making the bone stronger and more stable. Hormones like estrogen and nutrients such as vitamin D assist in the absorption of calcium and its incorporation into the bone matrix.

Milk is one of the best sources of pure calcium with up to 300 mg of calcium in a single glass of milk. Considering the fact that the daily recommended amount of calcium for the elderly is 1200 mg, the amount that milk has to offer is quite impressive. However, despite being so rich in calcium, milk alone will not help you completely prevent osteoporosis.

The main reason for this is the fact that osteoporosis is not caused by deficiency in calcium alone. If you take milk and neglect other aspects of bone health such as vitamin D availability and exercise, you will not really be helping yourself that much. For dairy to be effective against osteoporosis, you need to take an all rounded approach to ensure that the high levels of calcium you consume are actually absorbed and out to good use.

Cons of Relying On Dairy
  1. Cannot be used by lactose intolerant people.
  2. Continuous consumption of high quantities of milk could lead to hypercalcemia. This causes formation of kidney stones and heart failure.
  3. Milk is high in fat and cholesterol which could aggravate other conditions such as heart disease.
  4. Without vitamin D and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, calcium will not be adequately absorbed.
  5. In some people, the acidic nature of milk actually depletes bones of their calcium matrix. This means that dairy can actually contribute to osteoporosis. 
Alternatives to Dairy
  • Regular physical activity. This helps to prime major weight bearing bones making them a lot more flexible. This worked for Johanna Quaas who is today the oldest active gymnast in the world.
  • Other calcium rich foods such as kale and other dark green leafy veggies. These have a lot of calcium and fiber and no cholesterol at all. 
  • Calcium supplements. These usually come in combined form with Vitamin D for enhanced absorption. They also help you monitor intake to avoid calcium toxicity.
  • Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Maintain healthy weight and BMI by striking the perfect balance between dieting and exercise. For the elderly, diets are more effective with the 1700 calorie diet being one of the friendliest.
Bottom line

After all is said and done, dairy is good for your bones. However, excessive consumption might do you more harm than good. Moreover, you cannot rely solely on milk and its products to prevent conditions such as osteoporosis. In this case, a more all rounded approach is the most beneficial. Combine regular physical activity with a balanced diet and consumption of calcium rich foods and you will have bones as strong as any young person.