A large cohort study from Sweden was published this week that investigated the relationship of dairy in regards to bone health, cancer, cardiovascular disease and overall mortality. Over 100,000 people were surveyed in depth regarding their diet and lifestyle choices from 1987 through 1997 and their health outcomes were monitored for an average timeframe of 20 years. The number of bone fractures and deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease were documented and evaluated for correlations to specific dietary and lifestyle habits. Special attention was paid to investigating dairy products: namely milk, cheese and fermented products such as yogurt.
Considering that milk is highly advocated for its importance in the prevention of osteoporosis, the results were startling! The study found that females consuming three or more glasses of milk daily had nearly twice the mortality rate of those drinking less than one glass of milk per day. Additionally, the women consuming the most milk also had a 60% increase in their rate of hip fractures. The implication of these statistics are concerning, especially since current national standards recommend that women consume three servings of milk or other dairy products per day.
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Females are at an increased risk for osteoporosis compared to males, which has largely to do with hormonal factors pertaining to menopause. For this reason, women especially have been encouraged to drink more milk to stave off osteoporosis. How shocked would these women be to discover that the study participants with the highest milk consumption also had the highest rates of fractures and overall mortality?
While it is true that milk provides us with many nutrients that are vital to bone health, there is more to the story. Milk also contains the sugars lactose and D-galactose, both of which have been demonstrated to lead to accelerated aging and inflammation. Chronic low-grade inflammation has been demonstrated to lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease and is also implicated in osteoporosis. Through my medical practice I have found that many of my patients also have immune reactions to dairy products. For example, I find that many people demonstrate sensitivities to whey, which is a protein found in high concentrations in milk. Many also have an inability to properly digest lactose. Consumption of dairy also has effects on our hormones, and raises levels of a growth hormone called “Insulin-like growth factor-1”. This hormone has been linked to increase rates of breast, prostate, colon and other cancers.
What should you do with this information and what can you eat to maintain the strength of your bones and protect your overall health? Thankfully there are many other excellent dietary sources of calcium other than milk. These include almonds, fortified nut milks, sesame seeds, broccoli and leafy green vegetables such as kale, beet greens, collard greens and spinach.
If you would still like to incorporate dairy into your diet, choose fermented options such as organic, unsweetened Greek yogurt or kefir. The Swedish study did not associate the same negative health risks to the intake of fermented dairy products. In fact, fermented dairy products may even be beneficial. However, even fermented dairy products pose a risk of causing chronic health concerns for those with intolerances, sensitivities and allergies. No two individuals are alike, and while yogurt might be great for the health of one person it can wreak havoc on the health of another. Identifying your food sensitivities is the best way to determine which foods are fuelling, versus fooling, your body!
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