Bone loss after the menopause poses a problem for many women because weakened bones become prone to breaking later in life. Although you can’t stop age-related bone loss completely, there are steps you can tale to reduce it. A good way to start is staying active and eating a healthy, balanced diet. As part of this bone-friendly diet, dairy products provide a package of nutrients that may help to give our bones the boost they need. But it seems that fermented dairy products such as yogurt may hold advantages over milk and other dairy products, this latest study suggests.
Dairy products are rich in calcium, protein, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin D – all important nutrients for maintaining bone strength. Fermented dairy products such as yogurt, fresh cheese, quark and kefir not only provide these key nutrients but also contain two possible ‘magic weapons’ against bone loss: probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. Prebiotics are selectively fermented ingredients that allow specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gut microflora that confer benefits to the host.
Promoting bone health in older women
The authors of this study set out to discover whether eating fermented dairy products such as yogurt could have a stronger influence on measures of bones loss than other dairy products.
They examined the diets of 482 Swiss women who were 65 years old and assessed their bone health and levels of body fat. Bone scans and blood tests were used to measure bone loss. The authors then repeated the same assessments three years later to see if there were any differences.
Consuming fermented dairy products was associated with slower bone loss
At the first assessment, women who ate fermented dairy products had larger bones in their forearm and lower leg (radius and tibia) than women who didn’t eat these foods. There weren’t any differences in bone loss measures at this point.
However, by the three-year assessment, women eating fermented dairy products had less bone loss in the radius of the forearm than women not eating these foods. Milk consumption was associated with some benefit, but eating ripened cheese had no effect on bone loss.
‘…the benefit of FDP [fermented dairy products] was not observed with other dairy products (milk and ripened cheese) and was partially independent of total energy, calcium, and protein intakes.’ – Biver et al, 2018.
Fermented dairy products may have benefits beyond bone health
Women who ate fermented dairy products had lower body fat and were less likely to be obese than women who didn’t eat these foods. Milk or ripened cheese consumption didn’t show this relationship with body fat.
The association between fermented dairy intake and lower body fat is good news for our health. Body fat, and particularly excess fat around the waist, is known to be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Indeed, previous research has suggested that dairy products, particularly yogurt, have a possible role in preventing type 2 diabetes.
‘It is well established that abdominal adipose tissue [fat] is associated with the development of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and even all-cause mortality.’ – Biver et al, 2018.
How are fermented dairy products exerting these effects?
The prebiotics and probiotics contained in yogurt and other fermented dairy products may be important for regulating our gut microbiota –which in turn may influence calcium absorption by increasing the permeability of the intestine. The gut microbiota may also affect chemicals leading to a decrease in bone resorption.
Another possible explanation is that consuming fermented dairy products is simply a signature of a healthy diet and lifestyle that may benefit bone health. However, in this study the link between fermented dairy product consumption and changes in bone characteristics remained regardless of the participants’ smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity.
The authors recommend that studies should be conducted in other populations to confirm the potential benefits of fermented dairy products on bone health. Working out how fermented dairy products might exert their effects on bone health would also add support to the findings of this study.