Dairy & Bone Health

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I get this question all the time.  If I don’t eat dairy products how will I protect my bones?

As a Naturopathic Doctor, I am often working with people who suffer health issues secondary to food allergies.  The two top food allergens in North America are wheat (gluten) and dairy.  For many people, avoiding their food allergens transforms their health and their lives.

If dairy is a cause of health issues, and we’ve heard our entire lives how important a daily serving of dairy is to support bones and teeth, how do we reconcile living without it?  Will our bones suffer?

My answer is: No.

This can be a major surprise to many of my patients.  However, I can confidently say that for many people dairy does more harm than good and we don’t need it for strong bones.

I’ve read many books that have helped me learn more about this North American dairy dilemma.  The two most impactful books beings “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell and “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  Each book addresses dairy in different ways, however both come to the same conclusion, which also mirrored what I learned from my wise mentors who have been helping people twice as long as I have.

I really like Dr. Furhman’s breakdown of nutrition.  His food strategy includes a lot of vegetables and whole plant foods.  Check out his food pyramid:

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Dr. Joel Furhman’s food pyramid. Click on picture for link to his website and larger picture.

…And what his balanced “plate” would look like:

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Dr. Joel Furhman’s “Plate.” Click on image to go to website with larger image.

The first thing people often wonder when they see this strategy is… is this a vegan/vegetarian plan?  Well… Dr. Furhman encourages people to limit or avoid animal products, dairy and generally non-nutrient lending food (sugar, processed food, etc.).

When I consider a nutrition concept, I take the most essential bits of it and use that information to create custom nutrition for my patients.  Some people feel better having lean protein in their diet, some people love eating just plant based food.  Everyone is unique, so we have to work within this reality.

My final note on dairy in the diet is that I’m not saying everyone has to avoid dairy, however I feel that less is more.  But most importantly, we do not need a daily dose of dairy to protect our bones.

This is talked about in great detail in The China Study.  T. Colin Campbell reports that in his decades long research he’s concluded that its a protein excess in North America that is contributing to osteoporosis.  Dairy is a protein, along with other animal foods.  When we eat too much protein our body becomes too acidic.  This acidity, if persistent over weeks, months and years calls upon the bones to release minerals into the blood stream to help neutralize, or buffer, it.  This is what we know as the “leaching” of bones that eventually weakens them.

T. Colin Campbell isn’t the only one feeling this way.  Brendan Braizer, vegan Ironman triathlete, wrote a great post on the importance of maintaining our alkalizing and how our conventional medical system unfortunately disregards this.  Read his article here: The Alkaline Advantage.

There is another great article querying the relationship between MILK and osteoporosis that I thought was poignant.  After all, why is it that North Americans, who are among the top dairy consumers in the world also have the highest rates of osteoporosis? Hmmm…. You can read Emily Yoffe’s brilliant article here: Got Osteoporosis?

There are 3 major supporters of strong bone density:

1) Weight Bearing Exercise

2) High (non-salad*) Green Vegetable Intake … and anything and everything we can do to keep our bodies mineralized through our nutrition.  Green vegetables are very mineralizing, as is lemon in water, mint leaves in water, liquid cholorphyll in water, spirulina powder in smoothies, etc.  *Side Note… salad mainly contains water and not much else.  

3) Reduce Stress … stress is highly acidifying.  It’s the invisible entity in our bodies that can heighten the physiology of breakdown.

There are 3 major supporters of bone loss:

1) High Protein Diet = Prolonged Acidity.  (Comparatively a highly acidifying diet caused by other things, too… i.e. refined food, flour, sugar, alcohol).

2) Coffee

3) Sedentary Lifestyle

Let’s break out of old dogma about nutrition and think more forwardly about how we can use our food as medicine!  Plus, healthy food can be delicious and nutritious food can be fun.  Check out my recipes for ideas and inspiration!

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2 comments

  1. puck013 · February 19, 2014

    Less coffee?? Hmmm.. bones or coffee…. Ok, I’ll give it a whirl.
    P.S. Zesty corn chowder was an AMAZING recipe! Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Dr. Laura Imola, BSc, ND (Licensed) · February 19, 2014

      Hey Leila,

      Super excellent! Yes, bones over coffee. And…I’m glad you liked the chowder. I’m on a crazy Mexican kick… stay tuned for my upcoming huevos rancheros recipe.

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