Dairy products such as yogurt and milk have long been seen as foods that pack a healthy punch against the threat of fragile bones. As a great source of calcium and other bone-friendly nutrients, they’re the obvious choice for keeping our bones fighting-fit as we get older.
But is there scientific evidence to prove that dairy products can really protect us from broken bones due to osteoporosis, to which we are prone as we get older?
Well – yes, say the authors of this article. They examined the most up-to-date reviews and analyses of large-scale trials investigating whether increasing our dairy intake improves bone health. And they concluded that at least some types of dairy products – yogurt and milk – can indeed reduce our risk of broken bones in later life.
‘Adults literally walk on their calcium nutrient reserve.’ – van den Heuvel EGHM et al, 2018
What’s more, their review confirmed that children and adolescents can grow stronger bones through consuming dairy products – that’s important because the strength of our bones in later life depends on how strong they became in our childhood. As we grow, the amount of calcium and vitamin D we consume helps form the building blocks determining bone strength. As we get older, our bones lose calcium, reducing the bone mineral density and making them weaker and more fragile.
Dairy products are associated with healthier bones in children and teenagers
The authors found that the research to date clearly shows bone strength can be improved in children with previously low intakes of calcium and/or Vitamin D by increasing their consumption of dairy products. Studies haven’t yet been carried out to tell us whether these children are less likely than others to suffer a broken bone.
Dairy products are associated with stronger bones in adults
Combining results from several studies shows that increasing calcium intake from dairy sources increases bone mineral density by up to 1.8% over two years. That may not sound like much, but, given that most adults lose only about 1- 2% of their bone strength during ageing, it may be a very useful gain.
A glass of milk a day may keep broken bones at bay
Scientists predict that a 1-2% increase in bone strength would reduce an adult’s risk of broken bones by 5-10%. Indeed, studies in various countries have shown that a daily glass of milk is associated with a reduction in fracture risk of 5% or more.
The results may vary according to the nutrient content of the dairy products. In Sweden, restuls suggest that people who drink lots of milk break their bones at least as often as those who drink less milk. The authors suggest that this may be partly because, compared with milk in other countries, Swedish milk contains less Vitamin D (which strengthens bones) and more Vitamin A (which makes bones fragile).
The benefits of dairy products appear to be more pronounced in old people. A study of elderly people found that those who drank seven servings of milk per week were 40% less likely to break their hip.
Yogurt stands out for healthy bones
In this same study, those elderly people who consumed one serving per week of milk + yogurt were 20% less likely to break their hip than those who had less than one serving per week. No significant associations were seen for other dairy foods.
In another study, people who regularly ate yogurt had higher bone densities than those who did not; cheese had little effect and cream appeared to make bones more brittle.
Most of these studies carried out so far have been of Caucasian or Chinese women and girls; the authors say further research is needed into the effects of dairy as part of bone-friendly diets in other ethnicities and in men.
Are supplements better for bones than dairy products?
The answer is probably not. Results combined from various studies suggest it doesn’t matter whether we boost our calcium levels using dairy products or calcium supplements; the effects on bone density are much the same.
However, supplements don’t contain the full package of all the other valuable nutrients that dairy products do. As well as calcium, dairy products contain more protein, magnesium, potassium, zinc and phosphorus per unit energy than any other food typically eaten by adults.
And as well as those nutrients that occur naturally in yogurt and other dairy products, vitamin D is added in several countries to try to counter widespread vitamin D deficiency. The combination of vitamin D and calcium is better for bones than either of them alone. This underlines the importance of dairy products as a vehicle for vitamin D fortification, say the authors.
So a daily dose of dairy may be better for your bones than popping pills to supplement your calcium and vitamin D levels.
Find out more: read the original article.