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Preventive Medicine and Nutrition
"The dairy folks, ever
since the 1920s, have been enormously successful in cultivating an
environment within virtually all segments of our society—from research
and education to public relations and politics—to have us believing that
cow's milk and its products are manna from heaven. ... Make no mistake
about it; the dairy industry has been virtually in total control of any
and all public health information that ever rises to the level of public
Dr. T. Colin Campbell
Why dairy products won't help you maintain healthy bones
Building strong bones and keeping them that way is
easier than you may have thought.
This Web page focuses on debunking a myth sold to
the American public by a multibillion-dollar industry—an industry that
has repeated its marketing message so often and for so long that most
people now believe that dairy products are essential to bone health,
despite extensive evidence to the contrary. The dairy industry has an
army of dietitians, public relations consultants, and lobbyists on its
payroll but does not have the evidence on its side.
The dairy pushers pay dietitians, doctors, and researchers to endorse
dairy products, spending more than $300 million annually, just at the
national level, to retain a market for their products. The dairy
industry provides free teaching materials to schools and pays sports
stars, celebrities, and politicians to push an agenda based on profit,
not public health. Dr. Walter Willett, veteran nutrition researcher at
the Harvard School of Public Health, says that calcium consumption via
dairy-product intake "has become like a religious crusade,"
overshadowing true preventive measures such as physical exercise. To
hear the dairy industry tell it, if you consume three glasses of milk
daily, your bones will be stronger and you will be able to rest assured
that osteoporosis is not in your future. Not so.
After examining all the available nutritional studies and evidence, Dr.
John McDougall concludes: "The primary cause of osteoporosis is the
high-protein diet most Americans consume today. As one leading
researcher in this area said, 'eating a high-protein diet is like
pouring acid rain on your bones.'" Remarkably enough, both clinical and
population studies show that milk-drinkers tend to have more bone breaks
than people who consume milk infrequently or not at all. For the dairy
industry to lull unsuspecting women and children into complacency by
telling them to be sure to drink more milk so that their bones will be
strong may make good business sense, but it does the consumer a grave
Much of the world's population does not consume cow's milk, and yet most
of the world does not experience the high rates of osteoporosis found in
the West. In some Asian countries, for example, where consumption of
dairy foods is low, fracture rates are far lower than they are in the
United States and in Scandinavian countries, where consumption of dairy
products is high.
While reading this, please remember that dairy products contain no
complex carbohydrates or fiber but are packed with saturated fats and
cholesterol and have been linked to heart disease, cancer, Crohn's
disease, and a host of childhood illnesses from asthma to diabetes.
But Don't Take Our Word for It—Examine the Science for Yourself
"Milk, it now seems clear, is not the solution to
poor bone density. To the contrary, it's part of the problem."
Dr. Charles Attwood
In one study, funded by the National Dairy Council, a group of
postmenopausal women were given three 8-ounce glasses of skim milk every
day for two years, and their bones were compared to those of a control
group of women not given the milk. The dairy group consumed 1,400 mg of
calcium per day and lost bone at twice the rate of the control group.
According to the researchers, "this may have been due to the average 30
percent increase in protein intake during milk supplementation. ... The
adverse effect of increases in protein intake on calcium balance has
been reported from several laboratories, including our own" (they then
cite 10 other studies). Says McDougall, "Needless to say, this finding
did not reach the six o'clock news." This is one study that the dairy
industry won't be repeating any time soon.
After looking at 34 published studies in 16 countries, researchers at
Yale University found that the countries with the highest rates of
osteoporosis—including the United States, Sweden, and Finland—were those
in which people consumed the most meat, milk, and other animal foods.
This study also showed that African-Americans, who consume, on average,
more than 1,000 mg of calcium per day, are nine times more likely to
experience hip fractures than are South African blacks, whose daily
calcium intake is only about 196 mg.
Says McDougall, "On a
nation-by-nation basis, people who consume the most calcium have the
weakest bones and the highest rates of osteoporosis. ... Only in those places where calcium and protein are eaten in relatively high
quantities does a deficiency of bone calcium exist, due to an excess of
Harvard University's landmark Nurses Health Study, which followed 78,000
women over a 12-year period, found that the women who consumed the most
calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank
milk. Summarizing this study, the Lunar Osteoporosis Update (November
1997) explained: "This increased risk of hip fracture was associated
with dairy calcium. ... If this were any agent other than milk, which
has been so aggressively marketed by dairy interests, it undoubtedly
would be considered a major risk factor."
"The association between the intake of animal
protein and fracture rates appears to be as strong as the association
between cigarette smoking and lung cancer."
Dr. T. Colin Campbell
A National Institutes of Health study at the University of California,
published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2001), found
that "women who ate most of their protein from animal sources had three
times the rate of bone loss and 3.7 times the rate of hip fractures as
women who ate most of their protein from vegetable sources." Even though
the researchers adjusted "for everything we could think of that might
otherwise explain the relationship ... it didn't change the results."
The study's conclusion: "[A]n increase in vegetable protein intake and a
decrease in animal protein intake may decrease bone loss and the risk of
Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
(2000) looked at all aspects of diet and bone health and found that high
consumption of fruits and vegetables positively affected bone health and
that dairy consumption did not. Such findings do not surprise
nutritional researchers: The calcium absorption rate from milk is
approximately 30 percent, while figures for broccoli, Brussels sprouts,
mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, and some other green leafy
vegetables range from 40 percent to 64 percent.
After reviewing studies on the link between protein intake and urinary
calcium loss, dairy industry researcher Dr. Robert P. Heaney found that
as consumption of protein increases, so does the amount of calcium lost
in the urine (Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 1993): "This
effect has been documented in several different study designs for more
than 70 years," he writes, adding, "The net effect is such that, if
protein intake is doubled without changing intake of other nutrients,
urinary calcium content increases by about 50 percent."
Researchers from the University of Sydney and Westmead Hospital
discovered that consumption of dairy foods, especially early in life, is
associated with increased risk of hip fractures in old age (American
Journal of Epidemiology, 1994).
In Pediatrics (2000), published by the American Academy of Pediatrics,
Pennsylvania State University researchers showed that calcium intake,
which ranged from 500 to 1,500 mg per day, had no lasting effect on the
bone health of girls in their teens. "We (had) hypothesized that
increased calcium intake would result in better adolescent bone gain.
Needless to say, we were surprised to find our hypothesis refuted," one
"It is hard to turn on the television without
hearing commercials suggesting that milk promotes strong bones. The
commercials do not point out that only 30 percent of milk's calcium is
absorbed by the body or that osteoporosis is common among milk drinkers.
Nor do they help you correct the real causes of bone loss."
Dr. Neal Barnard
Finally, a review of all research conducted since 1985, published in the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000), concluded: "If dairy food
intakes confer bone health, one might expect this to have been apparent
from the 57 outcomes, which included randomized, controlled trials and
longitudinal cohort studies involving 645,000 person-years." The
researchers go on to lament that "there have been few carefully designed
studies of the effects of dairy foods on bone health" and then to
conclude that "the body of scientific evidence appears inadequate to
support a recommendation for daily intake of dairy foods to promote bone
health in the general U.S. population."
What we do know is that osteoporosis rates decline markedly as body
weight, exercise, and caloric intake rise. Corroborating the
researchers' concerns about poorly controlled studies, only three
studies have factored caloric intake into the analysis. Two of these
studies found no correlation between dairy intake and osteoporosis, but
the other found a positive link; that is, the more milk, the higher the
fracture risk (Harvard Nurses Study, above). The American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition (2000) study cited above argued that since it's clear
that total caloric intake and body weight are positively associated with
bone mass, such factors are "particularly important" in any study of
osteoporosis and bone mass.
Is the dairy industry ignoring these factors by design in its clinical
studies, perhaps because dairy-product consumers tend to be heavier and
have a higher caloric intake than those consuming fewer (or no) dairy
products? Despite the fact that so many dairy researchers ignore this
information, most studies still show no correlation between cow's milk
consumption and a lower risk for osteoporosis, and some actually
indicate that milk is associated with an increased risk. Perhaps if
these factors were taken into account, the studies indicating no link
would instead show, in fact, that dairy-product intake is linked to an
increased risk of osteoporosis, as does the Harvard School of Public
Health study. That would bring clinical analysis in line with the
population analysis, which clearly states that increased dairy-product
consumption is linked to increased risk for osteoporosis.
Drinking milk builds dairy producers' profits, but it is not likely to
build your bones and may even harm them. Dairy foods are linked to all
sorts of other problems, too, including obesity, heart disease, and
cancer, and are likely to be contaminated with antibiotics, hormones,
and other chemicals, including dioxin, one of the most toxic substances
in the world. (On April 12, 2001, The Washington Post reported that "the
latest EPA study concludes that people who consume even small amounts of
dioxin in fatty foods and dairy products face a cancer risk of one in
100." These consumers may develop other problems, too, including
learning disabilities and susceptibility to infections.)
Of course, calcium is an essential mineral. According to Dr. Neal
Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,
"Milk, in particular, is poor insurance against bone breaks ... the
healthiest calcium sources are green leafy vegetables and legumes. ...
You don't need to eat huge servings of vegetables or beans to get enough
calcium, but do include both in your regular menu planning." To learn
more or for a free vegetarian starter kit—which includes information on
nondairy sources of calcium—visit DumpDairy.com.
So what can I do to maintain strong bones?
Although the evidence is strong that dairy-product consumption doesn't
prevent osteoporosis, simply eliminating dairy products does not ensure
It pays to put some thought into keeping your bones healthy. Studies
have shown that the following factors are helpful in building and
maintaining strong bones:
• Getting plenty of exercise. Studies have concluded that physical
exercise is the key to building strong bones (it's more important than
any other factor). For example, a study published in the British Medical
Journal that followed 1,400 men and women over a 15-year period found
that exercise may be the best protection against hip fractures and that
"reduced intake of dietary calcium does not seem to be a risk factor."
And Penn State University researchers found that bone density is
significantly affected by how much exercise girls get during their teen
years, when 40 to 50 percent of their skeletal mass is formed.
• Getting enough vitamin D. If you don't spend any time in the sun
(about 15 minutes on the face and arms each day is enough), be sure to
take a supplement or eat fortified foods.
• Eliminating animal protein. For a variety of reasons, animal protein
causes severe bone deterioration.
• Limiting salt intake. Sodium leaches calcium out of the bones.
• Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. They contain vitamin C, which
is essential for building collagen, the underlying bonematrix.
• Not smoking. Studies have shown that women who smoke one pack of
cigarettes a day have 5 to 10 percent less bone density at menopause
To learn more about dairy foods and osteoporosis, please visit these