Dairy for Osteoporosis: Experts say Not all Kinds of Dairy Beneficial

Are you taking dairy for osteoporosis prevention? According to scientists at the Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) in Boston, not all dairy products are equal. If you need dietary calcium to maintain strong bones, you may want to choose your source more carefully. There is a wide variety of dairy products available, all with high levels of calcium. Various cheeses, milk, cream, yogurt, and even kefir have traditionally been consumed for better calcium absorption. Osteoporosis is a common problem among women, especially women diagnosed with celiac disease. If you are looking for information about foods in addition to dairy for osteoporosis, the Musculoskeletal Research Team at IFAR  can help. They also have suggestions for celiac patients who are avoiding dairy and in need of added calcium intake.

Dairy for Osteoporosis: What’s Best?

What is the best type of dairy for osteoporosis prevention? Find out how to protect your bone density health.
Protect your bone density health when consuming dairy for osteoporosis prevention.

When it comes to dairy for osteoporosis and bone health, the researchers at IFAR, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School (HMS), have discovered something important. They say we should be eating more yogurt, drinking more milk, and cutting out the heavy cream. Milk and yogurt in your diet will add more bone mineral density in your hips. But if you are eating whip cream or adding cream in your coffee you may end up with a lower bone mineral density overall, their study finds.

These findings suggest that not all dairy products are equally beneficial in promoting bone strength.

“Dairy foods provide several important nutrients that are beneficial for bone health,” says lead author Shivani Sahni, Ph.D., Musculoskeletal Research Team, IFAR. “However, cream and its products such as ice cream have lower levels of these nutrients and have higher levels of fat and sugar. In this study, 2.5 – 3 servings of milk and yogurt intake per day were associated with better bone density.

Are you using cheeses as your daily intake of dairy for osteoporosis? The verdict isn’t in yet, as far as Sahni and the research team at IFAR. They believe more research is needed to examine the role that cheese has on bone health. Some cheeses can be high in fat and sodium. So you may want to include low fat cheeses that are lower in sodium.

 How Did IFAR Decide Which Dairy for Osteoporosis is Best?

IFAR researchers based their findings on data collected from a food frequency questionnaire. This questionaire about dairy intake was completed by 3,212 participants. They then compared participants’ dairy intake with BMD measurement. This revealed the benefits of milk and yogurt versus cream in largely middle-aged men and women.  Experts advise people to use low-fat milk or yogurt over cream. This can increase your intake of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. And of course, it will also limit your intake of saturated fats, too.

According to IFAR: “Research like this supports the idea that proper nutrition can help combat osteoporosis and fractures.  Osteoporosis is considered a major public health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, or half of those aged 50 and older.”

Who’s at Risk for Osteoporosis?

  • Women are at higher risk than men.
  • People diagnosed with celiac are at a higher risk than the general public.
  • An estimated 10 million in the U.S. already have osteoporosis.
  • Another 34 million Americans have low bone density, putting them at increased risk for osteoporosis and fractures, especially of the hip, spine and wrist.

Diagnosed with Celiac and Unable to Take Dairy for Osteoporosis?

Alegria Aigen, MS, RD, LDN, is the lead clinical dietitian at Hebrew SeniorLife. Aigen acknowledges it is more challenging for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities to maintain bone health. Aigen recommends introducing these foods into a gluten-free diet to promote strong bones:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D
  • Dark leafy greens (e.g. spinach and kale)

It is advised that people with celiac disease always check labels to make sure the product is gluten-free. This may be naturally occurring or from cross contamination during production.

 About this Study on Dairy for Osteoporosis and Bone Health

Co-authors on the study include, Katherine L. Tucker, Ph.D.; Douglas P. Kiel, M.D., M.P.H.; Lien Quach, M.P.H, M.S.; Virginia A. Casey, Ph.D.; Marian T. Hannan, D.Sc., M.P.H.

This work was supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (AR # 053205 and also AR/AG41398) and by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s Framingham Heart Study (N01-HC-25195), the Melvin First Young Investigator Award and General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition.

About the Institute for Aging Research

Scientists at the Institute for Aging Research seek to transform the human experience of aging by conducting research that will ensure a life of health, dignity and productivity into advanced age. The Institute carries out rigorous studies that discover the mechanisms of age-related disease and disability; lead to the prevention, treatment and cure of disease; advance the standard of care for older people; and inform public decision-making.

About Hebrew SeniorLife

Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is a national senior services leader uniquely dedicated to rethinking, researching and redefining the possibilities of aging.  Based in Boston, the non-profit, non-sectarian organization has provided communities and health care for seniors, research into aging, and education for geriatric care providers since 1903.  For more information about Hebrew SeniorLife, visit www.hebrewseniorlife.org or connect on Twitter, Facebook or their Blog.

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