From our health care practitioners, parents, TV and magazine advertisements, to the Canadian Food Guide, the idea that milk is essential for healthy bones has been drilled into our brains for most of our lives. It is as though mainstream society is ignoring some of the information about the dangers of milk and eating up the dairy industries’ marketing messages. How sad. The truth is that milk is NOT actually essential for optimal bone health. In fact, the consumption of milk and dairy in general may actually contribute to calcium deficiency, low bone density, and increased risk of osteoporosis.
To give you an example, consumption of dairy products, particularly at age 20 years, was associated with an increased risk of hip fracture in old age. (“Case-Control Study of Risk Factors for Hip Fractures in the Elderly”. American Journal of Epidemiology. Vol. 139, No. 5, 1994).
And here is why…
1. Calcium is used to neutralize the acid that dairy produces within the body.
Fun fact: most of the world’s population is lactose intolerant and lactose intolerance is the most common cause of gas, bloating, abdominal cramping and diarrhea in the world! This is because most people stop producing the enzyme lactase (an enzyme needed to digest dairy) between early childhood and adolescence. Without the lactase enzyme, the lactose ferments in the intestine, producing lactic acid, and is absorbed into the bloodstream. As the body must maintain an optimal pH balance, calcium and other minerals are pulled from the bones in order to neutralize the lactic acid. Moreover, cow’s dairy contains a high amount of protein (approximately 3 times more than that of human milk), which is acid-producing within the body and must be neutralized by calcium in addition to the lactic acid. Note: unsweetened fermented or cultured dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, and sour cream are not acid-producing and do not bind to calcium for neutralization.
2. Milk loses 50% of its available calcium during pasteurization.
Pasteurized milk, which is the milk found in grocery stores, is not as rich in calcium and minerals as raw milk. Unfortunately, getting your hands on raw milk is nearly impossible in Canada due to sanitization issues. Matters are made worse with low fat and skim milk because fat is necessary for proper absorption and utilization of calcium within the body.
Now don’t freak out and go running to your pharmacy to buy calcium supplements if you have been relying on milk as a source of calcium for years. In fact, increasing your calcium intake may not be the answer. According to Amy Lanou Ph.D, nutrition director of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., “The connection between calcium consumption and bone health is actually very weak, and the connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost nonexistant.”
The solution: Decrease calcium loss rather than increasing calcium intake.
Without addressing this loss of calcium from bones through various metabolic processes, consuming more calcium is like trying to fill a leaky barrel with water. Sealing the whole first would be a very logical solution, wouldn’t it?
To seal this theoretical hole, lets take a look at the ways in which calcium is lost from the body:
1) Caffeine (coffee, tea, soda pop and chocolate) causes increased calcium loss in the urine.
2) Refined sugar: Sugar increases calcium loss through urine. When food containing calcium is taken with sugar, the absorption of usable calcium through the intestines is greatly reduced. As well, sugar interferes with the calcification process during bone production and renewal. Make sure that you check the ingredients of your food for added sugar before you eat it!
3) Phosphorus (meat, grains, and soft drinks): When phosphorus levels are high within the blood, calcium is pulled from the bones and excreted through urine. Nevertheless, a certain ratio of calcium to phosphorus is necessary for bone production and renewal and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in meat, grains and soft drinks is key to this balance.
4) Salt: Sodium found in table salt increases urinary calcium excretion.
5) Vitamin D: Without vitamin D, calcium cannot be utilized for bone formation. Vitamin D activates the absorption and transportation of calcium. Major food sources are eggs, liver and mushrooms. The best source is sun exposure for approximately 20 minutes per day.
6) Vitamin K2: Without Vitamin K2, calcium may be absorbed into the arteries rather than the bones. Vitamin K2 is found mainly in organic animal sources that have been grass fed.
8) Excess protein: Protein depletes calcium in two ways:
(1) Excess protein is broken down to urea by the liver, which has a diuretic effect on the kidney and results in minerals, including calcium, to be excreted from the body.
(2) Excess protein is acid forming, often pulling calcium from the bones to be neutralized. A longterm study done by John A McDougall, MD found that high protein consumption contributes more to depletion of calcium from bones than does a deficiency of calcium intake. For this reason, it is recommended to consume between 35 to 50 grams of protein a day.
Many nutritionists agree that the best diet for preventing osteoporosis is a low protein (35-50g/day) and high complex carbohydrate diet that includes an abundance of fresh fruits, colourful vegetables, and raw seeds and nuts.
The best sources of calcium include almonds, sesame seeds (especially the black ones), collard greens, swiss chard, turnip greens, and all seaweed. Make sure that you soak these foods in hot water (nuts and seeds for at least 4 hours and veggies for a couple of minutes) to deactivate the anti-nutrients that bind to calcium and make it unavailable for absorption.
How do you get your daily calcium intake? What are your favorite dairy-free bone-health recipes? Leave a comment and spread the good healthy word using the facebook and twitter links below! I would love to hear from you!