Decades of public health messages have encouraged us to drink milk to strengthen our bones and reduce the risk of fractures as we age.
But dairy products have recently come under fire – and not just from paleo dieters and animal welfare supporters. Researchers have linked high milk intakes to bone fractures, cancer and premature ageing.
Only last month two research reviews, published in the British Medical Journal, reported that calcium supplementation and dietary calcium intake didn’t substantially reduce the risk of hip fractures or increase bone mineral density in adults aged over 50 years.
We would love to give a definitive answer on whether milk is healthy or harmful, and whether you should include it in your diet. But the reality is, it all depends.
It depends on how much and what kind of milk products you consume. It depends on whether you’re an omnivore or vegetarian. And it depends on your age and current health status. So, whether you’re underweight or carrying excess weight, elderly or convalescent, or have food allergies or intolerance.
Let’s look at whether the arguments against cow’s milk stack up.
1. Milk increases your risk of chronic diseases
The most recent reviews of the evidence have shown that drinking milk is not associated with increased risk of premature death.
Milk, dairy and calcium have not been conclusively associated with an increased or decreased risk of any other cancer. But there is limited evidence to suggest dairy increases the risk of prostate cancer.
Dietary calcium and dairy products are important for bone development up until the end of adolescence and for maintaining peak bone mass in adulthood.
But there seem to be few benefits for older adults, in terms of fracture prevention, neither for dietary intake or supplementation. There are also possible adverse effects from too much calcium, such as kidney stones, heart problems and gastrointestinal symptoms.