The secret to healthy bones? It’s not just about drinking milk

News & Analysis

9th October 2015

Our nutritional needs for bone health change as we age, according to a study published in the journal Osteoporosis International.

The researchers looked at intake of micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and protein, and assessed how adequate consumption can support good bone health.

The study also reveals that lifestyle trends are undermining skeletal health in people of all ages, but particularly children. The researchers found that an average child’s main source of calcium is in milk and dairy products, yet milk consumption has been declining across the world during the last few decades.

However, there is also evidence to suggest that drinking milk actually decreases bone strength, as the calcium in our bones is used to neutralise the acidity of cow’s milk.

The researchers also found that vitamin D insufficiency is widespread, which has led many countries to recommend that vitamin D supplements are given to children.

Professor Cyrus Cooper, the study’s co-author, said:

‘This new report shows just how important nutrition is for our bone health throughout life. In fact, nutrition plays a key role in the development of a healthy skeleton even before birth. Healthy maternal diets as well as adequate vitamin D levels are associated with greater bone mass in the off-spring.’

Studies have shown that calcium intake is lower than the recommended minimum in adults, too. Other lifestyle factors (such as alcohol consumption, smoking, and excess weight) also increase the risk of bone fracture.

The report also discusses the impact of nutrition on fracture prevention in older people, who are most commonly affected by osteoporosis. The review finds that poor protein intake negatively affects their bone and muscle health.

Professor Bess Dawson Hughes, the study’s other co-author said:

‘The baby boomer generation is ageing and as a result age-related musculoskeletal diseases are imposing an increasingly costly burden on society and health-care systems worldwide. This report shows how we can tap the potential of healthy nutrition within a systematic life-course approach to support osteoporosis and fracture prevention.’


  • Tom Pruen

    I’m a little puzzled at the suggestion that the acidity of milk is an issue, given that it has a pH of about 6.7, making it only very mildly acidic, while the stomach is strongly acidic.