The Weird Way Milk Hurts Your Bones

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It may be time to get a new source of calcium. While milk is the poster child of strong bones, but research from Sweden suggests that this form of dairy might not be the silver bullet against osteoporosis we all thought it was. Women who drank three to five glasses of milk per day were at higher risk for bone fracture and even death than women who drank less than one per day.

The researchers speculated that the explanation behind this counterintuitive finding lay in the sugar content of milk. (Yep, it always seems to come back to sugar.) The researchers point out that milk is especially high in lactose and galactose, two types of dairy sugar. The researchers found that the regular milk drinkers also had more biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation. Previous animal studies have linked dairy sugar to oxidative stress and inflammation, so this may be the key to understanding how this "health food" may be hurting us.

More From Rodale News: Milk: Superfood or Poison?

This isn't the first strike against milk, either. "With the approval of the FDA and USDA, many farmers use growth hormones to rev up milk production and antibiotics to treat the frequent infections cows get from being tethered to milking machines three times a day with no fresh air," says Alicia Silverstone, celebrity vegan and author of The Kind Mama and The Kind Diet. "I know milk seems like a healthy staple of our diet—I mean, most of us grew up drinking a glass with dinner. But the truth is, most humans never tasted any milk besides breast milk for almost all of human history."

Before you go ahead and throw out all of your milk, the researchers do point out that these findings should be interpreted with caution because this was not a clinical experiment. The findings were based on a survey of 61,433 women and 45,339 men. That being said, there are plenty of milk replacements that don't come with this potential risk.

Fermented Milk and Cheese
The researchers found that fermented milk, or kefir, had the opposite effect of regular milk: It decreased the risk of fracture or death. They found that, whereas milk was associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk factors (high HDL cholesterol, low LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and higher insulin resistance) fermented milk and cheese had the opposite effect on these characteristics.

While fermented milk has plenty of other benefits (such as balancing out your gut bacteria), keep in mind that, unless it's organic and humanely raised, it can have similar antibiotic and hormone pitfalls as regular milk.

Same goes with cheese. "Once in a blue moon, I do succumb and have a bite of cheese, but it just serves to remind me of how bad I feel on dairy," says Silverstone. "It's like my body rejects it—I get gassy and fart a lot, my skin breaks out, and I get all phlegmy."

As a vegan, Silverstone goes totally dairy free. "The trick to kicking dairy is to replace it with other yummy things, and I promise you won't feel deprived," she says.

Milk Alternatives
"There are so many choices," says Silverstone. "Just so you know, every type of "milk" on the market has a distinct taste—even among soy milks, there are different tastes and textures. Some are slightly sweetened. Explore and play with the choices as you find those that work best for you."

She recommends:
• Rice milk
Almond milk
Hemp milk
• Coconut milk
• Soy milk.

A quick note on soy: "These days, many people giving up dairy are making a wholesale substitution of soy products for dairy products, eating soy milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and tofu throughout the day," says Silverstone. If you're concerned about the plant-based estrogens, Silverstone recommends soy milk in moderation. "Too much of even a good thing is still too much," she explains. "In small quantities, phytoestrogens have a positive effect; studies show that they are protective against breast cancer and are helpful for postmenopausal women." She recommends Edensoy's soy/rice blend.

Just make sure your milk alternative doesn't have this gut-wrecking natural ingredient.

While you can't put it in your a.m. coffee, there are plenty of foods that can give you the same, if not an even greater, dose of calcium. Silverstone points out that whole milk has 118 grams of calcium per 100-gram serving, but chickpeas have 150 grams, collard greens have 203 grams, almonds have 234 grams, and sesame seeds have 1,160 grams.

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