When we were kids, we thought that we—or at least our parents—knew it all. But time hasn't been so kind to a lot of the purported truisms that we were fed, often literally, as children. An apple a day keeps the doctor away … sort of. Eating raw cookie dough actually can kill you, under certain circumstances. And now, as the cherry on this melted sundae of conventional wisdom, we learn that milk actually isn't going to make your bones stronger.
Put down that glass of 2-percent and pull up a chair. For literally decades, people have been guzzling cartons of milk, as well as chewing on chalky calcium pills or gnawing on calcium chews, under the impression that they were strengthening their bones. Which, you know, are pretty important.
One of the main arguments for milk consumption—fervently supported by the dairy industry, of course—is that calcium prevents bone fractures and wards off osteoporosis later in life. But a new study published in the British Medical Journal affirms growing suspicions that this is not the case. In fact, experts argue, calcium supplements and high dairy intake aren't just futile: They're potentially detrimental.
Rather than repeat the same types of trials and surveys that have been done for decades, a team from the University of Auckland in New Zealand did a large-scale analysis of a collection of previous high-quality studies regarding calcium intake.
The results? Not looking like they're in milk's favor.
Researchers concluded, via the information gleaned from the majority of the studies, that people over 50 don't have much to gain in terms of bone health when it comes to taking calcium supplements or making an effort to drink more milk and eat more dairy products. In fact, people who loaded up on calcium were just as likely to suffer from bone fractures as those who abstained. One review suggested that people with more calcium-rich diets have slightly denser bones, but that didn't affect their risk of experiencing a fracture.
"Dietary calcium intake is not associated with risk of fracture, and there is no clinical trial evidence that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources prevents fractures," the study authors stated. "Evidence that calcium supplements prevent fractures is weak and inconsistent."
That isn't to say that osteoporosis and bone fractures aren't big problems for older people in America. On the contrary, falls are very common and devastate the lives of many people over the age of 50. One out of three people experience a fall over the age of 65, and according to the University of Chicago, about 300,000 Americans suffer from hip fractures in the US every year. To make matters worse, about 20 percent of people who have a hip fracture die within a year of their injury.
But excess calcium doesn't necessarily serve as fortification for your flimsy skeleton. In fact, it can also cause gastrointestinal issues or accumulate in your arteries or kidneys, contributing to heart disease and the risk of developing kidney stones. And those aren't fun.
The US Preventive Services Task Force actually changed up their recommendations back in 2012 to reflect that calcium and vitamin D supplements kinda don't do shit, or at least couldn't be proven to measurably do good shit for our bodies.
Late last year, Swedish researchers reported that after examining the medical records of 100,000 people, they found a positive correlation between high milk consumption and mortality, as well as a higher incidence of bone fracture among women who consumed the most milk.
Dr. Karl Michaelsson of Uppsala University, one of the heads of the Swedish study, wrote, "The weight of evidence against such mass medication of older people is now compelling, and it is surely time to reconsider these controversial recommendations."
One bright spot in this miserable forecast for both milk and our bones: per the Swedish data, fermented dairy products such as yogurt and cheese were associated with lowered risk of bone fractures and premature death.
Hold on tight to your Fage and Camembert before they're ripped from our hungry paws by a conflicting study in the future. And watch your step on your way down the stairs.