Do we drink milk to get calcium, or do we get calcium from milk?

This is a typical chicken-and-egg question, did the chicken come first, or did the egg come first? In the same way, we are left baffled, do we lose calcium if we stop drinking milk, or vice versa?

According to Wikipedia, a bone is a rigid organ that constitutes part of the vertebrate skeleton. Bones form the skeleton structure to protect our important organs, store minerals and enable mobility. Bones are hard tissue which comprises of cortical bone, cancellous bone and bone marrow. At birth, we are formed from our mothers’ calcium, giving rise to over 270 bones which fuse together during development.

As with all mammals, our first diet when we human beings are born is milk, breast milk or formula milk. Milk, as we all know, is a pale liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals. It is the basic source of nutrition for mammals before digest of other food begins. Milk is often touted as a “superfood” for human health. The composition of milk usually includes protein, fat, sugar, vitamins and minerals which seem imperative for our body’s growth and development.

Sounds perfect, isn’t it?

Consumption of milk, therefore, goes beyond children into adulthood, and throughout the world, there are more than six billion consumers of milk and milk products. Why do adults continue drinking milk even after the required age?

For beauty? For calcium?

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, some 30 million to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, including up to 75 percent of African Americans and American Indians and 90 percent of Asian-Americans. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the milk sugar lactose, which is one of the reasons for ditching milk. However, it is more shocking to learn populations with the highest calcium intakes had higher, not lower, fracture rates than those with more modest calcium intakes! Recent studies have also surfaced to show drinking more milk causes osteoporosis! Such irony!

DO YOU KNOW? According to the most recent report from the SUN published in Aug 2016, the study found drinking 3 glasses of milk a day DOUBLES the risk of an early death and absolutely found no relation in the prevention of broken bones. The study monitored 61,000 women and 45,000 men for 20 years drinking 3 glasses of milk a day. Experts found that these group of people were twice as likely to die early, as opposed to those who consumed less than one glass of milk. In fact, researchers involved in the study also found increased levels of bone fracture in women as compared to men who drink 3 glasses of milk daily. The NHS recommends consumption of milk to delay bone fracture, or osteoporosis. However, researchers now believe the fat in milk cancels out the positive effects of calcium, since it triggers inflammation and increases the risk of heart attacks.

DO YOU KNOW? In another study published BMJ in Oct 2014, a study was conducted for 20 years to examine if high milk consumption is linked to high mortality and bone fractures in women and men. Out of the 61,433 women (aged between 39 and 74) and 45,339 men (aged between 45 and 79), 15,541 women died and 17,252 had fractures, while 10,112 men died and 5,066 had fractures. The study concluded that high milk intake was associated with higher mortality for both men and women.

That’s not all…..

DO YOU KNOW? In an article dated Oct 2014 by Jo Willey, the study also mirrors the above findings. The researchers fear the effects of high levels of lactose and galactose present in milk is to blame. These sugars can increase oxidative stress and chronic inflammation in the body – both of which are major causes of a host of the killer and chronic diseases. The research was conducted at the department of surgical sciences at ­ Uppsala University in Sweden. Professor Mary Schooling, of New York’s City University, said the new findings certainly raised fears about the potential harm of milk. She said: “As milk consumption gradually rise globally with economic development and increasing consumption of animal source foods, the role of milk and mortality needs to be established NOW.”

DO YOU KNOW? A review of 58 studies on dairy products and bone health published in the journal of the American Academy of Paediatrics summarized that there was little evidence to support the association between milk consumption in childhood and stronger bones.

How then do we maintain the calcium level in our bones? There are indeed several milk substitutes which are readily available in the market. Fermented milk products such as cheese and yogurt; darker greens such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy, parsley and watercress; sweet potato which contains magnesium and potassium; grapefruit or citrus fruits for more Vitamin C; and beans, nuts and seeds such as baked beans, kidney beans, lentils and peas, almonds and brazil nuts, sesame seeds. These foods do not contain damaging saturated animal fat, animal protein, cholesterol, and growth factors which are otherwise found in cow’s milk and dairy products.

It’s time to rethink our milk consumption choices and opt for alternatives such as vegetarian proteins.