Osteoporosis is a medical condition that weakens bones. Because they are more fragile, they are more likely to break. Sadly, it is a fairly common condition in the UK and affects around three million people. More than 300,000 people receive hospital treatment for fractures relating to osteoporosis each year so this is a big problem for a lot of people. Any bone in the body could be affected and there are usually no warnings, the diagnosis comes after your first fracture – often following a minor fall.
Most of us know that calcium is needed to maintain healthy bones and so the obvious reaction is to reach for the milk bottle and dairy products. However, many cultures that do not drink milk and its derivatives, experience much lower rates of osteoporosis. Perhaps the relationship between dairy products and osteoporosis prevention is not so clear cut?
Benefits of milk
Milk certainly delivers a large amount of calcium. You get 120 mg of calcium for every 100 g of milk that you consume. Also, the lactose (the sugar in milk) that it contains improves calcium absorption by the human digestive system.
Milk is readily available to all sectors of the population and is relatively cheap so even people on low incomes can get as much of it as they need. The milk that is sold today is pasteurised so it is perfectly safe to drink and available in a variety of different versions (skimmed, semi-skimmed etc.)
What are the disadvantages?
Despite it’s positive benefits, there are three big disadvantages to milk:
- The first is that the true calcium absorption may not be as high as it first seems. This is thought to be caused by the other components in milk, namely proteins, the hormone tricalcium, and the calcium/phosphorus ratio.
- The proteins in milk can acidify the blood. This acidification demineralises your bones, because in order to balance the blood pH your uses minerals from your bones.
- Lactose intolerance is a real problem for many people and many more suffer without realising they have it! Lactose intolerance can cause damage to your intestinal health, irritating the gut lining and compromising your absorption of nutrients.
This may explain why we still see high rates of osteoporosis in people that have consumed dairy products all their lives. That is why you may want to consider looking for other sources of calcium that are more easily digestible and looking for foods that have other minerals that contribute to proper assimilation and calcium attachment.
Alternative sources of calcium
- Sesame: This contains more calcium than milk and is much more digestible. You can sesame raw or as gomashio (ground and toasted with salt). It is also available as oil or tahini (a sesame paste). You can also blend tahini with water, lemon, cinnamon and honey to make your own sesame drink.
- Cooked carrots: They are richer in calcium than when they are raw.
- Seaweed: Also very rich in many other minerals. It can be used in stews or can add flavour to sauces and salads. Try spirulina algae for its many health-giving properties.
- Leafy green vegetables. Broccoli is the ultimate super food.
- Maca: It contains a lot of calcium and iron and is also a great hormonal regulator. People with uncontrollable hypertension and people with an overactive immune system should consult a doctor before taking this product.
- Cinnamon mixture: Very rich in calcium. However, it can cause acidification of the body so only eat it in small quantities in infusions or added to vegetable or fruit drinks.
- Horsetail: This medicinal plant is very rich in silicon, which helps you assimilate calcium better. You can drink two or three cups of an infusion each day.
- Salt water: A natural and balanced supplement that contains all of the minerals you need in appropriate proportions. You can find it in herbal and health food stores or on-line. It is best to take it before each meal.
Foods to avoid when you have osteoporosis
As important as it is to eat sources of calcium, it is also important to avoid the foods that reduce calcium levels in the body. Here are some examples:
- White sugar
- Refined or table salt
- Bottled drinks
- Coffee and black tea
- Alcoholic beverages