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Dairy Intake Best for Strong Bones

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A study from Purdue University shows that dairy products may be better than pills or foods fortified with calcium carbonate for maintaining strong bones. Calcium carbonate from foods and pills were compared to dairy intake by researchers, and is the first direct comparison of the benefits of milk and other dairy versus fortified foods and supplements for developing and maintaining strong bones.

Professor Connie Weaver, head of the food and nutrition department at Purdue University discovered that when rats were fed non-fat dry milk, they had longer and wider bones, compared to rats fed a diet with calcium carbonate. She says no studies have been done before showing that dairy products are better than foods fortified with calcium carbonate for developing strong bones, especially important later in life to prevent risk of fractures from osteoporosis.

"A lot of companies say, if you don't drink milk, then take our calcium pills or calcium-fortified food. There's been no study designed properly to compare bone growth from supplements and milk or dairy to see if it has the same effect," explains Weaver. The study suggests that maintaining regular dairy intake is the best way to maintain strong bones over a lifetime.

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Children drink milk early in life. After age 9, calcium intake from dairy usually declines, leaving youth without needed calcium for strong bones. The study suggests that peer pressure is a factor among youth after age 9. Data from Purdue's Camp Calcium shows that between age 9 and 18, 1300 mg. of calcium a day is necessary for healthy bones – about four cups of milk or yogurt daily.

For the study, 300 rats were fed a nutritious diet. One group received dairy, the other calcium carbonate. After ten weeks, measurements of bone health were taken, comparing the two groups. Milk was found to be superior for strong bones. Bone measurements were eight percent higher in the rats fed milk versus calcium carbonate.

“We found it was an advantage having milk or dairy while bones were growing over calcium carbonate, and it protects you later in life," says Weaver. Bones are in constant turnover, especially when they are growing. Youth need to have bone formation to outweigh bone loss."

The researchers found that dairy intake also equated to strong bones later in life, when compared to calcium carbonate, making an emphasis on dairy intake especially important while bones are growing. The study is the first to show that dairy products lead to strong bones, comparing to calcium carbonate in foods and supplements. More research is needed to understand the reasons.