Dairy products are popular in Western nations; milk, cheese, yogurt, ice-cream and milkshakes are common inclusions in most people’s diet. All of these foods taste good and they do contain some minerals, particularly calcium.

Most people think regular dairy product consumption is critical for maintaining strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. However, the story is not so simple. Western nations are the biggest milk drinkers and yet they also suffer far higher rates of osteoporosis than most Asian nations, where dairy products are not a part of the traditional diet.

Recently a study compared the bone density of vegan women with non-vegetarian women to see if lifetime dairy consumption made much difference to their bones. The study was conducted by the Garvin Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia and the results are published in the journal Osteoporosis International.

The study compared the bone health of 105 post-menopausal vegan Buddhist nuns with 105 post-menopausal non-vegetarian women. Vegans only eat plant foods; they do not eat meat, fish, chicken, eggs or dairy products. The nuns in the study had a very low calcium intake, averaging 370 milligrams per day, whereas the recommended calcium intake is 1000 milligrams per day. Buddhist nuns were chosen for this study because their faith requires them to follow a strict vegan diet for their entire life.

The results of the study were quite startling to researchers; the bone density in the two groups of women was identical.

We do not recommend everybody follows a vegan diet; however, this study proves that there is far more to osteoporosis than just calcium intake. Osteoporosis is a disease that is usually the consequence of chronic poor health, poor diet and/or hormone imbalances.

How to prevent osteoporosis

If you want to keep your bones strong we recommend the following:

  • Make sure you are not vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is required to enable calcium to enter bones. The vitamin is made when your skin is exposed to sunlight, or it can be taken in supplement form. You can have a blood test to check your level.
  • Exercise regularly. If you don’t exercise, your muscles will shrink and your bones will weaken.
  • Eat lots of vegetables and fruit. They are high in vitamin K and boron, which strengthen bones.
  • Some medication can cause thinning of the bones; these include steroids, antacids, some hormonal contraceptives and some anti-depressants.
  • Undiagnosed celiac disease is a common cause of osteoporosis. Other intestinal diseases that reduce nutrient absorption (eg. Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease) also increase the risk of osteoporosis.
  • High levels of sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol and soft drinks all promote osteoporosis.
  • Deficiencies of the hormones estrogen, testosterone and DHEA can cause osteoporosis. These hormones can be checked with a blood test.