Do Dairy Products Lower Your Risk for Osteoporosis?

Do Dairy Products Lower Your Risk for Osteoporosis?

Your parents taught you that milk is vital to your health from a very young age, and milk and dairy products are a big part of many people's lives. But does dairy prevent issues like osteoporosis?

Dr. Kenneth Varley at Southern Pain Specialists in Birmingham, Alabama, is a pain management specialist who's an expert in osteoporosis. If you're concerned about your bone health, Dr. Varley has the diagnostic tools and treatments to help. Here’s what he wants you to know about dairy and osteoporosis risk.

Understanding osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a degenerative and progressive disease that affects your bones. When you have osteoporosis, your bones deteriorate, becoming porous and brittle.

The most significant risk with osteoporosis is bone fractures. As the disease progresses, your bones break down faster than new bone cells form. Fewer bone cells mean less mass and density in the bones throughout your body.

In moderate to severe osteoporosis, something as simple as sneezing can cause a fracture. You can suffer a compression fracture in the vertebrae easily when you have osteoporosis — in fact, the most common area for fractures is your spine.

More women get osteoporosis than men. A year or two before menopause is often when the disease develops; when you go through hormonal changes, it affects the way your body absorbs calcium. You're also at risk for osteoporosis if you have a family history of the disease. 

However, you can reduce your risk for osteoporosis by eating the right foods.

The role of calcium and bone health

Calcium is a big player in your bone health. It's the main mineral present in every bone in your body, and it contributes to your bone strength and durability.

Your bones are your body's primary source of calcium, as they act as a holding tank for the essential mineral. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, your bones hold 99% of your body's total calcium reserves.

The need for calcium changes at different stages in your life. When you're young, you need more calcium as your bones grow. Then the amount you need levels out until you reach older age.

Bone loss is why older adults also need more calcium in their diets. As you age, your body has a more challenging time absorbing calcium, which puts you at risk for osteoporosis and fractures. 

Vitamin D is just as important as calcium in bone health. It’s essential for calcium absorption and helps keep your bones healthy. Vitamin D prevents the breakdown of bones that causes them to become brittle and thin. If you only focus on your calcium intake, you're not doing enough for your bones.

Should you eat more dairy to avoid osteoporosis?

While dairy products help keep your bones strong, many other factors play into your risk of osteoporosis. Consuming large amounts of dairy doesn't guarantee you won’t get osteoporosis, but ensuring you get enough calcium throughout your life does lower your risk.

Cheese, yogurt, and other forms of dairy have the most amount of calcium your body can readily use compared to other types of food. Other foods that are excellent sources of calcium include:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Kale
  3. Soybeans
  4. Sardines
  5. Nuts
  6. Figs
  7. Oranges

There are few foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D, but milk and other dairy products and foods — such as cereals and orange juice — are often fortified with calcium and this essential vitamin.

If you're concerned about osteoporosis, be sure you’re getting the recommended intake of calcium and vitamin D. This is the best way to keep your bones healthy and prevent fractures as you get older.