We have been told all our lives to drink milk for strong bones. Eat more yogurt and cheese. And to be sure we are getting enough calcium to protect our bones, take a calcium supplement.
This thinking is based on the fact that osteoporotic bone contains less calcium than healthier bone and dairy products have lots of calcium per serving, so the logical conclusion is to drink milk and eat dairy products to get more calcium into the body.
So as a nation, we have increased our overall calcium and dairy intake; however, at the same time our osteoporosis rates are skyrocketing? If milk and supplemental calcium are the answer, shouldn’t hip fractures rates be declining?
Many are questioning this advice and with thorough testing and research they are advancing additional theories.
The highest rates of hip fractures are in Western countries: North America, Europe –especially northern Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Hip fracture is much less of a problem in Africa, Asia and South America.
Calcium consumption in the United States and Western Europe averages about 1,000 milligrams a day, whereas in China, Peru, Sri Lanka and other non-western countries, calcium consumption is only about 500 milligrams a day, yet fracture rates are very low.
Currently 10 million Americans over age fifty have osteoporosis – 8 million women and 2 million men. Another 34 million have osteopenia (bone and mineral density considerably below normal). Each year 1.5 million Americans suffer an osteoporotic fracture.
One of the most interesting and convincing programs recommended to prevent bone loss is the low-acid or vegan diet. In Building Bone Vitality* the authors over many years have directed and reviewed many clinical trials regarding bone health. They conclude that the vegan or low-acid diet is the best answer to prevent osteoporosis. They explain that bone health begins in the blood.
- More than 99 percent of the body’s calcium is found in teeth and bones.
- Bone is approximately 40 percent calcium.
- As osteoporosis develops, bone mineral density (BMD) declines.
- Blood transports oxygen and many nutrients to every cell.
- Blood collects metabolic wastes and delivers them to the lungs, kidneys, liver and digestive tract for elimination.
They explain that the blood self-regulates its acidity and alkalinity -its pH. As Hydrogen ions increase, the solution is more acidic. In review, the pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. A neutral solution – neither acidic or alkaline (basic) – has a pH of 7. A pH below 7 means the solution is acidic and a pH above 7 is alkaline. Blood is slightly alkaline. Its normal pH varies from 7.35 to 7.45. If the blood’s pH falls below 7.35 or rises above 7.45 the body does not function properly and the body expends considerable energy to keep the blood’s pH within normal range.
Milk and dairy foods contain calcium and also contain protein. Proteins are combinations of 20 amino acids. Digestion breaks proteins into their component amino acids and sends them into the blood stream. The more protein in the diet the more amino acids enter the blood stream. A high-protein diet reduces the blood’s pH. The body takes steps to raise the blood’s pH. Calcium is alkaline. So when the blood needs alkaline to neutralize the acid, it can find calcium in the bones and draws the calcium compounds out of bone into the blood to neutralize the blood. This then reduces the amount of calcium in the bone. As this occurs more calcium is drawn into the blood than is needed. The kidneys then filter the excess calcium into the urine. The National Academy of Sciences says that 1 gram of dietary protein increases urinary calcium excretion by 1 to 1.5 mg. Thus if an individual eats a four ounce serving of meat, which contains about twenty grams of protein, one then loses twenty to thirty milligrams of calcium. Over a lifetime, if this loss is not returned to the bones, the loss is significant and osteoporotic fractures can occur.
Many believe that it is not possible to get enough calcium for strong bones without milk and dairy foods. However they do not realize how much calcium can be obtained from fruits and vegetables and that about one-half to two-thirds of the calcium in dark green leafy vegetables gets absorbed, whereas less than a third of the calcium in milk and dairy is absorbed by the blood stream. In addition plant foods are alkaline, so they do not force the body to draw calcium from the bones.
In the United States the recommended calcium intake is 1000 mg/day. Residents of many countries around the world consume less than 500 mg of calcium per day and have substantially lower fracture rates than Americans.
Sources of calcium:
Tofu, firm, 1 cup 506
Soy milk, calcium fortified, 1 cup 368
Collard greens, cooked, 1 cup 356
Spinach, cooked, 1 cup 292
Figs, 10 dried 269
Turnip greens, cooked, 1 cup 248
Fortified-ready-t-eat cereals, 1 oz 236 – 1,043
Soy milk, calcium fortified, 1 cup 368
Thus the authors are saying, -to save your bones, eat a low-acid or vegan diet.
We need to eat some calcium, but much less than recommended. The best sources are greens and beans.
They say – Eat two servings of fruit and/or vegetables at every meal and snack on fruit and vegetables. Cut down on, or reduce animal foods and go easy on cereals, breads and pastas. Pair this with walking (or other weight-bearing exercise) for at least a half hour a day from childhood to old age and your risk of osteoporotic fractures is reduced by 50 percent, a decrease most osteoporosis drugs can’t match.*
- Lanou, Amy Joy, Ph.D., and Castleman, Michael, Building Bone Vitality, McGraw Hill, 2009.