Dairy Products Don’t Help Prevent Bone Loss

Dairy intake isn’t directly related to a reduction in the risk of bone fracture, however vitamin D does have a protective capacity in this regard.
Dairy Products Don’t Help Prevent Bone Loss

Last update: 14 September, 2020

We’ve associated dairy products with preventing bone loss for decades. However, this statement has now been disputed.

Although these foods are rich in calcium, other factors such as exercise or vitamin D levels are more important in the fight against osteoporosis. This disease is characterized by being frequent in women who have already gone through menopause.

Osteoporosis is irreversible and it’s crucial to ensure its prevention. Once the bone begins to demineralize, it doesn’t recover the lost calcium again. For this reason, it’s important to keep this mineral topped up early.

Dairy products aren’t the best source of calcium

Contrary to popular belief, some foods provide more calcium than dairy products. For example, leafy greens. However, you need to be careful with this type of product because if they contain high amounts of phytates or fiber, the bioavailability of the mineral may be reduced.

In any case, and according to an article published in the Nutrition Research Reviews journal, the association between high dairy consumption and reduced bone loss hasn’t yet been shown to be strongly evident. There are some indications that regular milk intake may reduce the risk of bone breakage, but this association isn’t scientifically sound and irrefutable.

A doctor's appointment.
Osteoporosis is a lack of calcium density in the bone, and is a common problem with menopause

Vitamin D helps prevent bone loss

When trying to prevent osteoporosis, maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D is more effective than a high dairy intake. This nutrient and hormone stimulates the absorption and fixation of calcium in the bones, which decreases the risk of fracture, according to a study published in the Osteoporosis International journal.

To guarantee the correct levels of this vitamin, frequent exposure to sunlight is paramount. By doing this, it encourages internal nutrient production, thereby reducing the risk of developing diseases in the medium and long term.

Vitamin D can also be provided through diet. However, it’s only present in a small amount of food. Those with acceptable levels of it are bluefish, eggs, and enriched dairy. Even some of the mushroom family may contain it.

Exercise to prevent osteoporosis

Aside from diet, physical strength exercise is an effective way to increase muscle mass and bone density. Practicing sport regularly reduces the risk of fractures in the medium and long term, becoming a protective factor against osteoporosis.

For this reason, combining diet and exercise is a good way to prevent the development of this syndrome in menopausal women. However, you should get used to these habits early on, not after you’re diagnosed with it.

A woman leaping on the beach.
Sport and exposure to sunlight are effective habits to prevent osteoporosis

Dairy products aren’t the best solution against bone loss

Dairy products provide nutrients that are beneficial to the body. Many of them contain probiotics, which are responsible for improving intestinal health. However, as far as bone loss is concerned, this food group doesn’t provide a great advantage over other alternatives.

Vitamin D may help. This nutrient increases the absorption and fixation of calcium in the bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

It’s a vitamin deficiency among the population, due to the low levels of exposure to the sun. Therefore, it’s recommended that you adapt your diet, and have a greater intake of food with vitamin D. In some cases, supplementation is even necessary.

One of the best suggestions is to do physical strength exercise as a protective method against bone loss. Regular sport reduces the risk of bone breakage in women who have already gone through menopause. A combination of diet and exercise would be the ideal plan.

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  • Weaver CM., Alexander DD., Boushey CJ., Dawson Hughes B., et al., Osteoporos Int, 2016. 27 (1): 367-76.
  • Van Den Heuvel EGHM., Steijns JMJM., Dairy products and bone health: how strong is the scientific evidence? Nutr Res Rev, 2018. 31 (2): 164-178.