Is Milk Robbing Your Bone Strength?

By James Lemire, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

December 1, 2014

  • Milk and the calcium conundrum
  • Top food choices to save your bones
  • Synergistic trio reduces fractures, breaks and a shrinking skeletal frame

“If you want strong bones, you have to drink plenty of milk.”

I’ll bet you’ve heard that line more times than you can count. My patients constantly quote it back to me, especially when I advise them to eliminate milk from their diets.

Yes, you read that right. Milk should not be part of your daily diet.

I can give you plenty of reasons…

It’s full of drugs, hormones and antibiotics. It’s processed until void of nutrition, then it’s “fortified” to put the nutrients back in. It’s not meant to be consumed by humans. It’s an allergen. It’s not good for you.

Still, many people make sure to drink two glasses a day in the hopes of keeping their bones healthy. Little do they know, they may be doing just the opposite. Drinking milk and eating dairy products isn’t the answer to shoring up your bones and preventing osteoporosis.

How can that be?

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There’s no doubt milk contains plenty of calcium. However, like the majority of animal products, it’s also an acid-forming food. When it’s consumed by humans, it causes the pH in our bodies to become acidified.

Well, now, calcium is great at neutralizing acid. So, when this acidic state occurs after drinking animal protein, guess what happens? Calcium is drawn from our bones to neutralize it. This sets the stage for bone loss and osteoporosis.

It’s a real catch-22, and one that most people aren’t aware of.

How can you get all of the calcium you need, without throwing your body into acid overload and depleting your stores of this bone-healthy nutrient?

There’s no question calcium is good for your bones. But it needs to stay in the bone instead of leaching out to fight off an over-acidic pH. It also needs the help of several other nutrients to do its job right.

This is where my 80/20 rule can help you out. The concept is quite simple. Get 80% of your diet from alkaline food sources, and not more than 20% from acid-forming foods. You can also get all of the calcium and other nutrients you need, without touching a single drop of cow’s milk.

The best way to put your body into a more alkaline (and less acidic) state is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Men and women who eat the most of these fresh foods tend to have stronger bones and a lower chance of falls and fractures.

There are plenty to choose from, and you can eat as many of them as you want. Just remember to buy organic. In the vegetable category you can enjoy arugula, artichokes, avocado, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, greens, mushrooms, peas, radishes, tomatoes and turnips, just to name a few.

The list for alkaline-forming fruits is just as long. You can choose from apples, apricots, cantaloupe, cherries, dates, figs, kiwi, peaches, pears, pineapple and a lot more.

(Which foods are acid-forming? Milk, bread, cereal, rice, pasta, potatoes, beef, pork, poultry, sugar, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, coffee, soda and other dairy products are some of the acid-forming foods. These are the foods that should make up only about 20% of your diet.)

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It might surprise you to learn that many of these alkaline-forming foods can also provide plenty of calcium.

Broccoli, kale, turnip greens and arugula all have a high calcium content. So do dates and figs. Alkaline-promoting almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds contain calcium, too.

If you feel the need for a milk substitute, try almond milk. It’s alkaline-forming and also an excellent way to get calcium. This makes it a great alternative to cow’s milk.

Remember, however, that calcium isn’t the only nutrient needed for strong bones. There are three more that work hand-in-hand with calcium to protect you from fractures, breaks and a shrinking skeletal frame.

The three nutrients I’m talking about are magnesium, potassium and vitamin D.

Your bones are continually breaking down and rebuilding themselves. This is where magnesium comes in. It’s fundamental to the activity of bone-forming cells.

If you aren’t getting enough of it, your bones could be breaking down faster than they can rebuild themselves. This is when they become weak and fragile… vulnerable to breaks and fractures.

Potassium is important, too, especially if acidity is leaching the calcium from your bones. This is because the potassium will neutralize the acid. This leaves the calcium in your bones where it belongs.

Once again, my 80/20 rule can save the day. Many of the foods I’ve already mentioned can increase both your magnesium and potassium levels. Carrots, peas, broccoli, asparagus, sunflower seeds, almonds and many others are all high in magnesium. Other foods, such as avocado, cantaloupe, artichoke, mangoes and pears are good sources of potassium.

The only place these foods won’t do the trick is when it comes to vitamin D. It works synergistically with these other nutrients to repair damaged bone. But it’s unlikely you’re getting enough of it from food sources.

During warm weather, boosting your levels of vitamin D is as easy as spending 15 or more minutes in the sun each day without sunscreen. (Sunscreen blocks the UV rays necessary for your body to produce vitamin D.)

But, if cold weather has you stuck indoors during the winter months, you don’t have to worry. You can buy vitamin D in supplement form. Just look for a supplement that contains vitamin D3 in the cholecalciferol form. This is the type that’s most bioactive. Taking 2,000 IUs daily should do the trick. If you suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, increase it to 5,000 IU.

I also have one more tip…

If you want your bones to be healthy, it’s essential to support them with the right kind of exercise. I recommend investigating low impact programs like Tai Chi and Qigong.

These exercises probably won’t reverse bone loss you’ve already experienced. However, they can help maintain your current bone density and improve your musculoskeletal strength. The sooner you get started, the more bone density you can preserve and the less risk of falls and fractures in your later years.

Licata AA, et al. “Acute effects of dietary protein on calcium metabolism in patients with osteoporosis.” J Gerontol. 1981 Jan;36(1):14-9.

Sellmeyer DE, et al. “A high ratio of dietary animal to vegetable protein increases the rate of bone loss and the risk of fracture in postmenopausal women. Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Jan;73(1):118-22.

New SA, et al. “Dietary influences on bone mass and bone metabolism: further evidence of a positive link between fruit and vegetable consumption and bone health?” Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1):142-51.

Tucker KL, et al. “Potassium, magnesium, and fruit and vegetable intakes are associated with greater bone mineral density in elderly men and women.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Apr;69(4):727-36.

Rude RK, et al. “Skeletal and hormonal effects of magnesium deficiency.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Apr;28(2):131-41.

Sellmeyer DE, et al. “Potassium citrate prevents increased urine calcium excretion and bone resorption induced by a high sodium chloride diet.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 May;87(5):2008-12.

Chen HH, et al. “The effects of Baduanjin qigong in the prevention of bone loss for middle-aged women.” Am J Chin Med. 2006;34(5):741-7.

Wayne PM, et al. “The effects of Tai Chi on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: a systematic review.” Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2007 May;88(5):673-80

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