Myth 30: Lots Of Milk Builds Strong Bones

milkFor years, doctors and scientists have told the public to drink milk, eat dairy products and take calcium supplements to improve bone health and prevent osteoporosis. The problem is they’re wrong.  A new book “Building Bone Vitality”, co-authored by Amy Lanou, UNC Asheville assistant professor of health and wellness, and noted health writer Michael Castleman, dispels the calcium myth using the latest clinical studies and medical information.

The authors’ suggested eating plan includes six to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables and no more than one or two servings of high-protein foods such as meat, dairy and eggs daily. Why? Because protein is composed of amino acids. As the body digests high-protein foods, the blood becomes more acidic, leaching calcium from the bones.

For example, have you ever taken Tums for acid indigestion? Its active ingredient, calcium carbonate, neutralizes stomach acid because it’s highly alkaline. To neutralize excess acid in the bloodstream, the body draws the same compound from bone. A high-protein diet of meat, dairy and eggs draws calcium from bone and eventually causes osteoporosis, the authors say.

Of course, fruits and vegetables also contain some protein, but much less than meat, dairy and eggs. Fruits and vegetables also contain a great deal of alkaline material. When you eat these foods, only a small amount of acid enters the bloodstream along with a great deal of alkaline material, which neutralizes the acid. Therefore, the body does not have to draw calcium compounds out of bone.

“Fruits and vegetables keep calcium in bone where it belongs,” said Lanou.

To further back up their theory, Lanou and Castleman pored over completed human clinical trials and found that they also refute the calcium claim. Since 1975, 140 clinical trials have explored calcium’s effects on osteoporotic fracture risk. Two-thirds of these studies show no benefit from high calcium intake. Overall, the clinical trials dealing with fracture prevention run two-to-one against calcium, the authors noted.

Finally, the authors reviewed research on the impact of exercise on bone health. They found that the consensus of research shows that just 30 to 60 minutes of daily walking is enough exercise to build strong bones.

“The good news is that you don’t have to join a gym or sweat buckets,” said Castleman. “But you do have to walk every day.”

Lanou, who holds a doctorate in human nutrition from Cornell University, joined the UNC Asheville faculty in 2005. She has played an instrumental role in creating programs and coursework for UNC Asheville’s North Carolina Center for Health & Wellness, which focuses on childhood obesity, workplace wellness and healthy aging. Previously, she taught nutrition at Cornell University and Ithaca College. She is the author of “Healthy Eating for Life for Children” and has written or delivered more than 50 scientific articles, reports and presentations on bone health, dairy products or the health benefits of plant foods. Lanou also serves as senior nutrition scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to preventative medicine through good nutrition.

Source: University of North Carolina at Asheville

20 Responses

  1. If the amino acids in milk cause the blood the become acidic, wouldn’t the alkalines in milk neutralize the blood, negating the leaching calcium from bones effect?

  2. Clearly drinking our milk and taking our vitamins is not working. Our bones are like a bank account. We have to deposit minerals and also withdraw them on a daily basis to support the vital functions of our bodies. OsteoDenx™ is a new and natural supplement that supports the “deposits and withdrawal of the minerals we take through our food and through supplements. Read about it:

  3. Just goes to show you the benefit of a balanced diet and daily exercise. If we could just get people to that step we’d be much better off.

  4. I always wondered why we push milk for strong bones. Asians don’t drink milk and I don’t think they have any higher rate of osteoporosis. (Not that I know for sure)

    About the meat intake, what about cultures like Native Alaskans whose diet is mostly meat? Did/do they have a high rate of osteoporosis?

    • According to this link, yes, they do:

      “Native Eskimos have the highest dietary calcium intake of any other people in the world– above 2000 mg per day from fish bones. Their diet is also the highest in the world in protein- up to 400 g per day primarily from fish (Americans rarely eat quite this much). Native Eskimos have the highest rate of osteoporosis in the world.”

      I don’t claim to know anything about the source of the quote.

      • Ben – I think Native Eskimos’ osteoporosis may also be linked to Vitamin D deficiency from lack of enough sunlight.

  5. OK. So, our body takes calcium carbonate from our bones to neutralize the amino acids found in meat. We should eat more vegetables and fruits, because they’re not acidic, and less meat, because it is acidic.


    I’m really confused. I was under the impression that most fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, apples, citrus fruits, onions, etc.) were acidic–often more acidic than meats.

    Besides, our stomachs are very acidic (more acidic than most foods that we eat). I would imagine that anything passing through the stomach also ends up being acidic (or at least less basic) naturally.

    (pH of food from the FDA (cached):

  6. Jen,
    “As the body digests high-protein foods, the blood becomes more acidic, leaching calcium from the bones.” They are not saying that milk is more acidic than, say, lemons. They are saying that as it digests your blood becomes more acidic.

  7. I’ll buy this for adults, but I’m not so sure about young children. They are, after all, still growing their bones, still laying the calcium down. Don’t they need higher levels of calcium in order to do that? Isn’t that the reason milk is so high in calcium naturally – so our littlest ones can grow strong bones and teeth?

    On the other hand, I doubt adults are laying down much bone density. We’re on the maintenance end of the process. We just need to stop drawing it out unnecessarily – which is apparently what this book is about.

    • Susan WB, children don’t need any milk after infancy. Milk doesn’t count for calcium intake because the calcium in milk binds to other forms of calcium, making it indigestible for humans. People who rely on milk for calcium end up with osteoporosis in later life. If the children make the switch from drinking milk to a diet full of calcium rich fruits and vegetables, they will have stronger bones than their milk drinking counterparts.

    • Dairy milk isn’t high in calcium because us humans (and our kids) need it. It is formatted for one purpose–nurturing calves. Human milk is what human children need to be drinking. We wouldn’t feed a baby calf human milk and expect it to thrive, would we? Thats the way I see it, anyhow. We should keep things the way nature intends them to be. As long as a child gets adequate milk from their mother and then healthy calcium sources from a plant based diet, they will be just fine.

      “The calcium content of cow’s milk (120mg per 100ml) is nearly four times that of human milk (34mg per 100ml). This discrepancy occurs for good reason; calves grow much more quickly and have a larger skeleton than human babies and therefore need much more calcium (FAO, 1997). Cow’s milk is specifically designed to meet this high demand. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on calcium requirements of infants, children and adolescents, the available data demonstrates that the bioavailability of calcium from human milk is greater than that from both infant formulas and cow’s milk (Baker et al., 1999). So although human milk contains less calcium than cow’s milk, the calcium in human milk is better absorbed into the body than the calcium in cow’s milk, again illustrating why human milk is the best source of nutrition during the first year of life” (Source:

  8. Susan, milk being dense in calcium is different than our bodies being able to absorb and synthesize that calcium.

  9. I’m 13 years old, I broke my arm 3 weeks ago and have my cast off, it’s still broken, the bone is warped/bent, the doctor said there’s a new bone growing and straighting the other out, if I drink lots of milk will this speed up the growing, thank you, James

  10. Pasteurization is the main culprit. Processing milk turns it from alkaline to acid and kills the enzymes necessary for proper absorption. It turns a healthy product (raw milk) into indigestible swill. My bones gained mass after eliminating milk from my diet completely, and I’m post-menopausal and don’t exercise. I have not eliminated meat from my diet. There’s much more to this than they’re telling.

    It’s the “developed” countries like the US, Sweden, Norway, and Germany that have the highest rate of osteoporosis and also the highest rate of milk consumption. No coincidence. Alcohol consumption also destroys your bones.

  11. Bones are constantly varying with the times and therefore old bones are replaced instead by new ones . With the growth in actual age , your bones beginning to build up fragile . 99 per cent of physique calcium is kept in your bones . Calcium is extremely vital it is employed by human body for effective working of your muscles or even neural system . We primarily just acquire calcium from our meal or possibly other stuff we consume due to the fact physique never produce calcium independently . Too little availability of calcium will mean system will probably make use of the bones calcium . Just as female grows over thirty , body system will start dropping the bone mass more quickly when compared with the frequency of on which human body substitutes it . This raises the threat of getting affected by Osteoporosis . The ladies are more inclined to be impacted prior to adult males seeing that their bones are smaller in size as well as thinner than males . *

    Please do find out about our new online site

  12. I recently had a Cardiologist tell me to stop taking calcium supplements because I had plaque on my Arteries or maybe he said Aorta. I have been taking large doses of Calcium due to my Osteoporosis diagnosed many years ago, and very painful now. So his instructions were a big surprise to me. I have stopped. But worry. This article of yours is very beneficial, thank you.
    Shari J Wells

  13. This potentially dangerous and misleading article appears to ignore basic biological science and an understanding of blood pH. All human blood must remain in a very narrow pH range, which is not the same pH range of other parts of the body, such as various organs. The pH is controlled in essentially two ways, through breathing out CO2 and through the kidneys. If the blood is too acidic, it is due to either respiratory failure or kidney failure and either one requires hospitalization. Blood acidity is not controlled by leaching calcium from the bones. Other areas of the body are, however balanced differently. And excess acid or excess alkaline is generally released through the urine, thus people testing their body pH in this way are really only ever testing the pH of their own urine and nothing else.

  14. Okay, a clarification: calcium may leach from bone along with the process of digesting protein. This excellent link explains the many processes associated with milk and bone strength:

    Understand that this is an issue not specific to milk, but to high protein intake, and could be balanced by the intake of calcium and vitamins D and K.

  15. We are hardly able to digest milk as per medical science..Our capacity to digest decreases with age..

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