Most people are told throughout their lives that drinking milk builds strong bones, but studies suggest this common advice may not be true.
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It makes sense on the surface. After all, dairy milk is one of the primary sources of calcium in a balanced diet, and 99 percent of the calcium in your body is found in bones and teeth. However, drinking enough milk to meet the recommended calcium intake may do more harm than good.
More Calcium Doesn’t Mean Stronger Bones
Current recommended intake levels are based on studies examining the maximum amount of calcium that can be forced into bones. These studies focused on determining how much calcium your body can handle, with the assumption that more is better so long as your body can absorb it. Based on these studies, the National Academy of Sciences recommends 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day for adults age 19 to 50, and 1,200 milligrams for women over age 50.
However, the conclusion that higher calcium intake builds stronger bones may not be as sound as most believe. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition examined over 40,000 men over found years, and found no evidence that a high calcium intake reduced the risk of bone fractures. In addition, a meta-analysis of several different studies also found no evidence to support this claim. In fact, the study concluded that, “Pooled results from randomized controlled trials show no reduction in hip fracture risk with calcium supplementation, and an increased risk is possible.”
Health Risks Associated With High Calcium Intake
Although drinking large amounts of milk may not be linked to strong bones, some studies have shown that is connected with something else: Cancer. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that high calcium intake was associated with a significantly increased risk of prostate cancer in men.
While high calcium intake might not be good for your health, it’s worth noting that an excessively low calcium intake isn’t good either. Your body is constantly remodeling your bones, building new bone with cells called osteoblasts while breaking down the old. Without enough calcium in your diet, your body may begin removing calcium from your bones, and your osteoblasts won’t be able to do their jobs properly.
So how much calcium do you need? Well, the real answer is we don’t know. A British committee for establishing dietary requirements concluded that 700 milligrams per day was sufficient, while the study on prostate cancer showed that 500 milligrams was effective at mitigating the health risks.
Finding Other Sources Of Calcium
Dairy products are known to have certain dietary risks. They are often high in saturated fat, which is an important risk factor for heart disease. Many people are also lactose intolerant to some degree, which means drinking milk can cause mild symptoms such as bloating or gas, or more severe ones like diarrhea and cramps.
Fortunately, there are several alternative sources of dietary calcium. Dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and collards are good options. You can also get calcium from certain legumes, such as white beans and winged beans. In fact, calcium can come from a wide variety of foods, including oranges, broccoli and dried figs.
Instead of drinking milk, try getting your calcium from fruits and vegetables like these. You should also try limiting your calcium intake to around 700 milligrams per day, instead of the current and most likely excessive recommendation of 1,000 milligrams. By monitoring how much calcium goes into your body on a daily basis, you can help ensure a long, healthy life for your bones.