Milk bottles; dairy

We’ve long been told that milk builds strong bones, but a new study from Sweden did not show a link between high milk consumption by older adults and a lower risk of fracture. If anything, women who drank more than 3 glasses of milk a day were more likely to die in the 20-year follow-up.

The researchers had data from more than 61,000 women who were followed up over 20 years, on average. These women filled out dietary questionnaires at two different times.

The scientists also tracked about 45,000 men for 11 years. The men also filled out a dietary questionnaire.

Milk Drinkers Had More Inflammation

In Sweden, the health statistics are very good, so they were able to figure out who had fractures and who died with good accuracy. There were no reductions in fractures associated with increasing quantities of milk. For women, those drinking more than three glasses of milk daily were nearly twice as likely to die during the study as those drinking less than one glass a day. The association between milk drinking and mortality was not as strong in men, but both men and women had more markers of inflammation in their urine if they drank more milk.

Cultured Milk Products Seem Safer

Fermented milk products such as yogurt or kefir, however, were associated with lower rates of deaths or fracture. The investigators propose that this is because fermentation removes the milk sugar products lactose and d-galactose. In animal studies, these are associated with inflammation.

[BMJ, online, Oct. 28, 2014]

In the People’s Pharmacy perspective, we’d like to suggest moderation. The authors of this report urge caution in over-interpreting the results, since it is an epidemiological study and not an experimental trial. It does seem to indicate that we shouldn’t rely too heavily on drinking lots of milk as the best way to prevent osteoporosis; since other studies have thrown doubt on the safety of taking high doses of calcium supplements (as we have written), perhaps we should be relying more strongly on weight-bearing exercise as our natural approach to osteoporosis prevention.

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  1. mavin

    I always have been a milk drinker ½ gal. a week and ate yogurt thinking it was good for the bones. Lately I have been questioning my milk intake because of these articles about how milk is bad for you. At around 60 yrs old I have osteopenia.

    About two months ago I started making Kefir. It is so easy to make and so good tasting. My Kefir culture is growing so well that I make more and more to use the culture. Now I stopped the yogurt and I’m drinking 1 gal. of milk a week in the form of Kefir.
    Is all this Kefir good for me?

  2. Jean

    I think perhaps that looking at the sugar+inflammation link will provide more answers with regard to bone health overall. Then there is also the K2 factor that also needs to be taken into account. If the milk drinkers died of heart disease then perhaps their intake of foods containing K2 were less, because there is a link between calcified arteries and osteoporosis. One thing that did stand out about this study is the comment by one expert that they did not distinguish between fractures caused by accidents or those caused by osteo (falls) and so forth, they only took out fractures caused by pathological causes like cancer.

  3. Cathy

    It would be nice to know what milk was being drunk, and how it was processed. In the US, grocery store milk is one of the most processed foods around. Is it the same in Sweden? My raw milk source, a local farmer, tells me she has many customers who were sickened by processed milk from the grocery store but have regained health on raw dairy. The summary of the findings in this study indicate that a weakness in this study is the fact that it didn’t make distinctions about sourcing. As with the stories on fats and oils (and any food we might consider “the same all over”), it seems important to know what product is being consumed, and how it is prepared.

  4. Cindy M. B.

    All my life I’ve heard that milk causes mucus and inflammation, and that adults have a hard time digesting milk and really don’t need it. So I never, ever drink milk. I do, however, drink kefir every day in my power shake and love it. Provides calcium, probiotics, so much great stuff.

  5. Mary

    I pretty much limit my milk consumption to my 2 cups of coffee and my oatmeal.

    I use approximately 1 L (about 1 qt) a week and I use full fat milk.

    Some demonize milk and some praise it. Maybe a middle ground is more practical.

  6. Eleanor
    Western Washington

    I’m 74 years old and I’ve always consumed a lot of milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese. I otherwise eat very well–fresh and local farm-raised everything, heavy on pastured animal products and produce, light on grains and sugars, cooked simply in my kitchen. I’m slender and fit and I look and feel pretty good; my teeth and gums are excellent. I’m not too disturbed by this milk report because I’ve been drinking fresh raw milk from an A2 Jersey cow whose milk is one third cream. I had no particular convictions about all this until last month when I read “Devil in the Milk: Illness and Health and the Politics of A2 and A1 Milk” and then “The Raw Milk Revolution.” I’m tempted to think I’m doing the right thing by drinking a quart of raw A2 milk every day.

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