Those three servings of dairy may not be necessary for bone health. At least that is, according to new research published in Menopause.
Pulling data from the 3,300 women participating in the ongoing SWAN Study, researchers began comparing dairy intake with bone mineral density. What they found contradicts the recommendation for “3-A-Day” from the Dairy Industry. Their data suggests dairy intake during the menopausal years in women does not impact risk for osteoporosis.
Is it time to wipe off your milk mustache for good?
When is menopause and why does timing matter?
The North American Menopause Society states menopause occurs between the ages of 40 and 58 years. However, there are certainly outliers. During this time, bone density decreases more than in any other phase of life.
Because of the jump in bone deterioration, healthcare providers tend to encourage osteoporosis prevention in women. One of the go-to recommendations is to consume dairy foods daily.
Calcium and Osteoporosis
Visit nearly any doctor’s office or school and you will find posters or brochures encouraging three servings per day of dairy foods. The reason for such ubiquitous measures is because dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese are easily accessible and nutrient-rich.
A glass of cow’s milk contains minerals linked with bone health, including calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus and potassium. Micronutrients such as these work together to build a strong infrastructure within bone tissue. When one or more of these are off balance, bones begin to deteriorate.
When we get enough calcium within a balanced diet, we enable bone-building to occur and reduce the risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a bone disease resulting from either bone loss or the lack of bone production, impacting 5.1% of men and nearly 25% of women ages 65 or older. While the percentages seem low, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, “osteoporosis-related bone fractures are responsible for more hospitalizations than heart attacks, strokes or breast cancer.”
Nationwide data on nursing homes places North Carolina’s fracture rates right in the middle. Meaning we could certainly do more to lower the risk.
Thankfully, bone-building minerals are available from a multitude of food sources. Calcium is readily available in soy milk, leafy greens, tofu, bone-in salmon or sardines. Other foods may also be fortified with calcium, such as plant-based milks, orange juice, protein powders or meal bars.
Consider the bigger picture.
Calcium alone is not the answer.
Vitamin D, particularly vitamin D3, serves as the key to unlocking bone’s door for calcium to enter. The body also requires a balance of salt with potassium and acid with base. When this equilibrium becomes off-kilter, bone breaks down. With this in mind dairy recommendations must be given in the context of one’s full dietary pattern. Without the awareness of the other food or beverages one is consuming, or how dairy reacts within one’s body, the blanket recommendation for more cow-based dairy may not always be best.
In fact, further research is necessary to understand exactly how nutrients work when consumed alone as a supplement and also when consumed in a certain dietary pattern (e.g. standard american diet, vegan diet, mediterranean).
Current nutrition science indicates the average American needs more plants and less meat for stronger bones and overall health improvement. Yet the recommendation for cow-based dairy remains controversial. Some studies find it helpful, others find it unnecessary.
This particular study on dairy intake during menopause divided 3,000 plus menopausal women into groups based on dairy intake. The results show that whether consuming zero servings of dairy or more than 2.5 daily, the rate or bone loss and fractures did not change.
In the end, the research leaves us with the need for more research when it comes to dairy.
What can you do to reduce your risk of osteoporosis?
Eat more plants, enjoy just enough protein, count your calcium and get moving.
As diets rich in fruits and vegetables are proven beneficial in just about every way, aim for more. Then take a look at your current calcium intake. Did you know your body can only absorb about 500 milligrams at a time? If you need 1,500 milligrams daily, be sure to space this mineral throughout the day.
A bone-healthy day might begin with a seed-based granola topped with calcium-rich milk, a kale salad with a tahini dressing for lunch and salmon patties for dinner. You can always incorporate yogurt or kefir as a calcium-rich snack for a simple snack.
One final piece of advice? Get moving. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, and muscle-strengthening exercises, such as yoga, are essential for strong bones.