Debunking the milk myth: Is dairy really good for your bones, osteoporosis?

Tell a doctor that you do not consume any milk products and he or she will immediately quip: 'But where do you get your calcium from? You can do it now but later on, you will get osteoporosis.' or that, 'you can be eccentric but make sure your child gets enough milk.'

No hard data about the fact that milk drinkers are more prone to osteoporosis will change their minds. They are doctors after all. The fact that they have not learnt much about nutrition in Indian medical colleges or that they don't have knowledge about food and diet does not faze them.

They are doctors; so what if they derive their 'knowledge' from the same people as a lay person –aayahs, grandmothers, neighbours, teachers, mothers (in that order) – they still know best.

 Debunking the milk myth: Is dairy really good for your bones, osteoporosis?

Representative Image only. Reuters

So, to understand the problem better, let us look at calcium – how much you need, and where should you get it from.

How much calcium does the human body need per day? If you are a meat eater, you need more than a vegetarian because meat has high sulphur content and contains amino acids that cause a loss of calcium in the body. Therefore, a vegetarian adult needs 400-500 mg a day (according to the World Health Organisation) but a meat eater needs 800 mg. Children need 1200 mg between the age of 11-24 years.

While WHO's standards remain the norm, the United States National Institute of Health recommends 1500 mg for its citizens, while Canada and the United Kingdom recommend 700 mg for theirs.

What does WHO say about this variation? "Populations in developing countries appear to be at lesser risk of fractures than those in developed countries, in spite of their lower body weights and calcium intakes, possibly because they smoke less, drink less alcohol, do more physical work which promotes bone formation and consume less protein and salt (both of which increase calcium loss from the body)."

While milk and other dairy products are high in calcium, the important point is how much does the body absorb. A one-year study by the Dairy Board of America showed that an extra glass of milk a day did not increase the body's calcium level in the slightest. Look at the table below and see whether you get value for money.

Maneka table

Fractional absorption means how much calcium we can actually absorb from a food. For instance, the figure for broccoli is 53 percent, which means we can absorb roughly half the calcium that broccoli contains.

Calculate how much you spend per item and how much calcium you get to reach the 400 mg figure. From here, it is clear that dark greens, legumes, nuts and seeds are all powerhouses and far more effective in giving our bodies calcium than milk, without any of the allergies.

Milk is one of the biggest allergens of all foods. You may get calcium from milk but with all its attendant diseases, constipation (Italian researchers report that children of 1-6 years who suffered from this disease had their constipation cleared up when they switched from cow to soya milk), asthma, acne, osteoporosis... to name a few.

The calcium content in milk actually becomes a health hazard as undigested portions of it are deposited in the urinary system and become kidney stones. Another condition is that milk aggravates rather than alleviates is osteoporosis or bone loss. Studies have shown that it is excess protein rather than lack of calcium that causes this condition. So, the more milk you drink, the more prone you are to the disease.

Countries like Sweden, that have the highest milk consumption, also have the highest incidence of osteoporosis. Another misconception is that milk helps ulcers. Ulcers are caused by corrosion of the stomach lining. When you drink milk, it gives you immediate pain relief but that is only temporary. Milk actually causes acidity in the stomach further destroying the stomach lining and aggravating the problem.

Besides, ulcer patients who are treated with dairy products have been found to be two to six times more prone to heart attacks. This seems only logical because milk is designed to be the food on which a calf increases its body weight four times over in one month.

It is so naturally high in fat that it leads to obesity, the cause of all our modern diseases. Ayurveda, the ancient Indian form of medicine, actually lists milk as one of the five white poisons.

Human beings do not need milk and humane beings even less.

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Updated Date: Jun 20, 2017 12:47:06 IST