Bone health

Milk products, fractures and risk of mortality: a different perspective

osteoporosis - dairy products

A Swedish study reports that, in women particularly, fermented milk products -yogurt and other soured milk products-and cheese consumption were associated with a significant decrease in fracture incidence while high intakes of milk were associated with an increased risk of mortality. However, the results should be seen in perspective.

Based on two large cohorts, involving over 61,000 women and 45,000 men aged 45-79 followed for 20 years, the researchers calculate that women who drink three or more glasses of milk a day (i.e. at least 600ml of milk), have an increased risk of mortality of around 90% compared with women who drink less than one glass of milk a day.

The risk is significantly lower for men (+ 3% per extra glass of milk). No reduction in the risk of fractures was seen for increased milk intake. It should be noted that the report presents the findings of the study but does not establish any relation between cause and effect. Its findings should therefore be viewed in perspective, and any interpretation should take account of the fact that milk is just one of many dairy products, as well as the fact that bone health does not depend on calcium intake alone.

Note also that in this study, intake of fermented dairy products (yogurt, etc.) and cheese is, for women, associated with a lower risk of fracture and of mortality (around 10-15% lower per extra portion). The authors suggest that their findings may be explained by the galactose found in milk, given its pro-inflammatory effects.

In spite of its wide media coverage, this study does little to challenge current recommendations to consume 2 to 3 portions of dairy per day, including fermented milk, yogurt and cheese – which have lost much of their galactose content – as part of a balanced diet.

Source: Michaëlsson K et al. BMJ 2014, 349 :g6015

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