A recent tweet in my feed caught my eye. It said “Populations that consume the most cow’s milk and other dairy have the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fractures in later life.” If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m no big fan of milk, nor of the inclusion of milk (and alternatives) as a food group in Canada’s Food Guide. Still, this statement irritated me. Association is not the same as causation. There could be any number of reasons for this alleged (I say alleged because I’m not sure what evidence this statement was based on) difference in osteoporosis and hip fracture rates between populations. Perhaps the dairy consuming population lives longer so they have more time to develop these issues. Perhaps they aren’t physically active enough to build and maintain good bone density. Perhaps they are more genetically prone to osteoporosis. After all, diet only contributes so much to the development of osteoporosis.
When I googled the tweet I found a whole lot of vegan propaganda. However, a google scholar search for “dairy + osteoporosis” yielded some interesting results. One article in particular caught my eye. it was a review of 58 studies “published on the relationship between milk, dairy products, or calcium intake and bone mineralization or fracture risk in children and young adults”. It found there was no evidence that dairy consumption increases bone mineralization in children and teens. Damn, all those years of suffering through the school milk program for nothing! Despite this lack of support for dairy in preventing osteoporosis I could find no legitimate evidence to support the claim that dairy consumption actually increases the risk of osteoporosis. Vegetarians and vegans do not appear to be any less likely to suffer from osteoporosis than omnivores (1).
It seems to me that there is no strong evidence to support either argument at the moment. There is no reason to believe that dairy consumers are at any greater (or lower) risk of developing osteoporosis than non-dairy consumers.