You hear it all the time: drink milk to get enough calcium to protect yourself from osteoporsis!
But is it true?
Numerous definitive studies provide the answer: No, milk does not protect against osteoporosis -- in fact, it may be a cause.
Despite the dairy industry-funded ads featuring famous people wearing milk moustaches and implying that milk will protect you from bone fractures, it's long been known that countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis, such as the United States, England, and Sweden -- consume the most milk. China and Japan, where people eat less animal protein and little or no dairy food -- have low rates of osteoporosis.
Flying in the face of the usual corporate "milk-for-strong-bones!" propaganda is the latest study on the subject. A recent meta-analysis (2010 Oct 14 - Epub) of cohort studies of over 500,000 men and women found no relationship between milk intake and hip fracture rate.
You probably haven't heard about this study, despite the fact it highlights results from over a half million people. But this is an example of what happens when "health experts" in the mainstream media appear on shows which rely on financial support (advertising) from food companies, especially the dairy food industry.
In this new study, researchers were looking at the relationship between calcium intake from milk and hip fracture rates (the chief indicator used for studying osteoporosis). The researchers concluded, in October of 2010:
"In the meta-analysis of cohort studies, there was no overall association between milk intake and hip fracture in women but more data are needed in men." (abstract)
In other words, there is no evidence milk plays any role in preventing osteoporosis.
Perhaps interesting is the fact that this study -- showing milk plays no role in osteoporosis -- appears in the journal for the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, which is supported by the National Dairy Council. (See here)
These results are consistent with other meta-analyses carried out over the years, examining milk intake and bone health. For example a 2004 meta-analysis was carried out on 39,563 men and women from six prospective cohort studies followed for 152,000 person years. The conclusion:
"A low intake of calcium (less than 1 glass of milk daily) was not associated with a significantly increased risk of any fracture, osteoporotic fracture or hip fracture. There was no difference in risk ratio between men and women... No significant relationship was observed by age for low milk intake and hip fracture risk. We conclude that a self-reported low intake of milk is not associated with any marked increase in fracture risk and that the use of this risk indicator is of little or no value in case-finding strategies." (full text)
Another meta-analysis from 2005 included over 170,000 women and over 68,000 men and looked at calcium intake in relation to osteoporosis. The conclusion:
"Pooled results from prospective cohort studies suggest that calcium intake is not significantly associated with hip fracture risk in women or men. Pooled results from randomized controlled trials show no reduction in hip fracture risk with calcium supplementation, and an increased risk is possible. For any nonvertebral fractures, there was a neutral effect in the randomized trials." (full text)
Here's a 2004 study looking at bone health in kids and young adults, concluding:
"Scant evidence supports nutrition guidelines focused specifically on increasing milk or other dairy product intake for promoting child and adolescent bone mineralization." (study)
Better known in the medical research is the fact that there is a significant cross-cultural association between consumption of animal protein (including milk) and hip fracture rates.
In plain language, protein from animal foods -- including milk -- causes osteoporosis. The mechanism for this is now well known.
An older study (1991) found a significant cross-cultural association between animal protein and hip fracture rates. (pdf file of study)
In a joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation, the experts had the following to say in regards to the calcium paradox:
"The paradox (that hip fracture rates are higher in developed countries where calcium intake is higher than in developing countries where calcium intake is lower) clearly calls for an explanation. To date, the accumulated data indicate that the adverse effect of protein, in particular animal (but not vegetable) protein, might outweigh the positive effect of calcium intake on calcium balance." (WHO/FAO report)
Plain speak: Milk appears to do more harm than good.
WHO/FAO released more recent information in regards to animal protein and bone health, showing clearly that the more animal protein consumed, the higher osteoporosis rates. Conversely, those populations experiencing the best bone health, have both the lowest animal protein intake, and the highest vegetable protein intake. And those with the least osteoporosis also consume the least calcium in general, see this WHO/FAO report.
A table from this report illustrates the varying levels of animal protein consumption by region (which has increased significantly in many areas since this report):
On another note, we recently highlighted results of the EPIC Study in an article on vegsource.com that indicates milk causes prostate cancer. From the study:
"High intake of dairy protein and calcium from dairy products and high serum concentration of IGF-I were associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer." (abstract)
The results from the Epic Study are largely consistent with the results from the 2007 report of a systematic literature review produced by the expert panel of the World Cancer Research Fund. Their conclusion regarding dairy and calcium intake and prostate cancer:
"The evidence, from both cohort and case-control studies, is substantial and consistent with a dose response relationship. There is evidence for plausible mechanisms. Diets high in calcium are a probable cause of prostate cancer." (study)
Another meta-analysis done in 2005 also revealed the relationship between Dairy and ovarian cancer:
"In conclusion, prospective cohort studies, but not case-control studies, support the hypothesis that high intakes of dairy foods and lactose may increase the risk of ovarian cancer." (see study)
Another study that included over 60,000 women also found a relationship between milk and ovarian cancer:
"In conclusion, this prospective cohort study provides evidence that high intakes of lactose and dairy products, especially milk, may increase the risk of serous ovarian cancer." (see full study)
Another meta-analysis found that dairy products increase the risk of Parkinson's disease:
"These data suggest that dairy consumption may increase the risk of Parkinson's disease, particularly in men." (see study)
Despite the Dairy industry touting the supposed protective effects of dairy role in colorectal cancer, a 65-year follow-up study found that:
"High childhood total dairy intake was associated with a near-tripling in the odds of colorectal cancer." The study concluded that "A family diet rich in dairy products during childhood is associated with a greater risk of colorectal cancer in adulthood."
The researchers pointed out that dairy consumption elevates IGF-I, and that IGF-I increases the risk of colorectal cancer, among other cancers. (see full study)
The Harvard School of Public Health made the following statement in regards to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (corporate-approved) food guide pyramid and dairy consumption:
"The recommendation to drink three glasses of low-fat milk or eat three servings of other dairy products per day to prevent osteoporosis is another step in the wrong direction. Of all the recommendations, this one represents the most radical change from current dietary patterns. Three glasses of low-fat milk a day amounts to more than 300 extra calories a day. This is a real issue for the millions of Americans who are trying to control their weight. What's more, millions of Americans are lactose intolerant, and even small amounts of milk or dairy products give them stomachaches, gas, or other problems. This recommendation ignores the lack of evidence for a link between consumption of dairy products and prevention of osteoporosis. It also ignores the possible increases in risk of ovarian cancer and prostate cancer associated with dairy products."
The truth is out there -- and in here. But as you can see, if you get your health information from the US government, or from the corporate-funded US media, you may end up obese, osteoporitic, or worse -- with cancer.
And don't look to organizations like the American Dietetic Association for reliable nutritional advice either; major funding for the ADA comes from their "corporate partner," the National Dairy Council. In fact, the ADA, which positions itself as the source of healthy nutrition information, receives millions from companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Unilever, General Mills, Mars, ConAgra, and the National Cattlemen's Association, among many others, to do their work in developing nutritional advice. Just check the ADA's Annual Report. When it comes to getting good health and nutrition info, buyer beware.
What is known for sure, even if it's not well publicized, is that one of the most important steps you can take to protect your health is to avoid all forms of dairy -- milk, chese, butter, etc. Fortunately, with so many healthy alternatives out there, it's become much easier to do.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks are due to TW who provided study information andn other material for this article.