Dairy…Do we need it?

Got Milk? Add to that ice-cream, cheese, butter and yogurt and you have a pro-inflammatory cocktail that can reduce bone density.

While dairy is a concentrated source of calcium, it also produces an acidic residue in the body which can leach calcium and magnesium from the bone, making them more brittle and subject to fracture. Combine the dairy with cereal, crackers and bread and you have an inflammatory explosion that shoots up glucose and insulin levels which strips minerals from the bone. Cheese is the most acidic.

Even epidemiological and prospective studies are showing scant evidence for dairy intake and improved bone density.

When Walter Willet, M.D., Ph.D, the head of nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health gathered information from nearly 80,000 women, ages 30 to 55, he found no evidence that women who consumed one to three servings daily of milk or other calcium-rich foods–like cheese or yogurt–reduced their risk of hip fractures.

In another study, The American Academy of Pediatrics (2005) reviewed 37 studies about milk and bone health. 27 studies showed no relationship between dairy and enhanced bone health. In the remaining reports, the effects on bone health were very small and 3 were confounded by vitamin D intake. In fact, Vitamin D intake appears to be much more important than calcium in preventing fractures.

Interestingly, countries with lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption (like those in Africa and Asia) have the lowest rates of osteoporosis. These results, however, could be co-founded by the lower levels of refined carbohydrates and sugar intake also explaining the lower levels of osteoporosis.

So if dairy isn’t the answer to increased bone density, what is?

First, understand what nutrients make up the bone matrix and optimize your intake of these. Second, limit pro-inflammatory and acidic foods that cause demineralization of the bone. Third, manage stress levels and fourth, limit exposure to environmental toxins which can mimic bone minerals and weaken bone density. Sex hormones also play a part.

1. Bone nutrients: Vitamin D, Vitamin C, boron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, folate, silica and calcium are all critical bone nutrients. Foods rich in these nutrients include: kale, spinach, celery, peppers, carrots, beets, wild salmon, shrimp, sardines, quinoa, chickpeas, almonds, raspberries, chia seed and coconut water.

2. Pro-inflammatory Foods: Think sugar and anything white (pizza, pasta, rice, bread, bagel, cookies, milk, yogurt and so forth). Granola, energy bars, artificially sweetened foods and excess red meat are also inflammatory. Red meat twice per week is not inflammatory provided it is accompanied by vegetables.

 3. Stress: When we are stressed we produce cortisol to cope with our stresses. Cortisol increases calcium excretion and inhibits the renewal of the bone-building cells. While we can’t eradicate our emotional stressors, we can change how we perceive them. Instead of asking “Why does this happen to me”, ask “What is my lesson here? How can I see the grace in this?”. Take a weekly yoga class, get grounded and connect with balanced and more harmonious people.

4. Environmental toxins: Heavy metals such as mercury, lead, aluminum and fluoride are potent bone nutrient mimickers. If bone nutrients are replaced with heavy metals the risk of fracture increases. Keep tuna, swordfish and Chilean seabass to no more than once per month. Have mercury fillings removed by a biological dentist. Drink filtered versus tap water. Buy lead-free lipstick. Switch to a non-fluoride toothpaste like Toms, Spry or Burt’s Bees.

5. Hormones: Estrogen helps maintain bone density by inhibiting an enzyme that kills the osteoblasts, the bone cells responsible for growth and development of new bone. Check your hormone levels are use a bio-identical hormone if necessary.

If you want to optimize your bone density, follow the bone building nutrition plan below:

 Bone Building Menu

Breakfast: Green vegetable juice (cucumber, kale, celery and lime) and chia seed pudding

Snack: Fresh coconut water such as Vita Coco and Taste Nirvana

Lunch: Chickpea and quinoa salad tossed with tomatoes, cucumber, almonds and mint and served with wild salmon

Snack: Kale chips

Dinner: Raw shredded carrot and beet salad with almonds served with cajun shrimp and Moroccan quinoa

Snack: Fresh raspberries tossed in orange juice

Exercise: Yoga

The results: A 58 year old client of mine has been dairy-free for 3 years and eats like the above. Her DEXA scan showed a BMD of a 22 year old woman. Needless to say, she was very proud.

Photo Credit: shuttershock