Milk and Osteoporosis – What Is the Importance of Milk for Bone Health?

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What Is the Importance of Milk for Bone Health?

Milk helps protect against osteoporosis because consuming enough calcium and vitamin D supports peak bone mass. Milk and other dairy products contain the most readily digestible calcium and other nutrients vital for bone health. The recommended daily intake for most adults is 500-1000 mg of calcium; one 200 ml glass of sheep milk gives you 40-75% of your RDI!

Osteoporosis is a health condition that causes your bones to become thinner and weaker, making you likely to get fractures more easily. It affects women more often than men; in New Zealand, more than half of women over 60 have osteoporosis.

There are many risk factors for osteoporosis, including smoking, poor nutrition, being physically inactive, and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, as well as genetic factors. 

In this post, we concentrate on the nutritional link between milk and osteoporosis and cover what you can do to keep your bones healthy and strong and prevent osteoporosis from developing.

Milk and Osteoporosis – What Is the Importance of Milk for Bone Health?

Calcium, Vitamin D, and Protein – Crucial for Healthy Bones

The three essential nutrients for optimal bone health are calcium, vitamin D, and protein. It’s important to ensure we get enough of these nutrients at all ages, especially during childhood and perimenopause. 

Unfortunately, many people don’t get enough calcium and protein as kids when their bodies need it most for growing bones. 

For women, perimenopause (or preferably beforehand) is another life stage when looking after one’s bone health is crucial, as bone mass (and therefore, bone strength) starts to be lost once oestrogen production slows down.

Fortunately, we can make simple changes to our diet and lifestyle to increase the quantity of nutrients our body receives.

Calcium

One of the best calcium sources is dairy products. Other sources include vegetables, fruits and fish. If you don’t get enough calcium from your diet (or supplements) then this can lead to weak bones that fracture and break more easily.

Studies have shown that dairy consumption in childhood and adolescence led to increased bone growth and bone density. Our bones keep growing until they reach “peak bone mass”, usually in our late teens. Those with higher peak bone mass and bone mineral density significantly reduce their risk of developing osteoporosis as adults. 

On the flip side, those with a low milk intake in childhood are twice as likely to experience increased bone loss and suffer from fractures later in life. Because of this, scientists call osteoporosis a “pediatric disease with geriatric consequences”.

Vitamin D

As for Vitamin D, it helps us with calcium absorption and is also used in bone formation and strengthening. On average, we only need 10-15µg daily, and it’s usually easy (and free) to obtain.

Almost 80% of the Vitamin D our body needs comes from exposing our skin to sunlight. We only need 10-20 minutes in the sun each day to get enough!

Small amounts of the vitamin are in some foods, such as fish, mushrooms, eggs, dairy, and fortified foods. For example, sheep milk contains 0.2µg (same as cows) per 100 grams.

A deficiency of Vitamin D tends to come from spending too long indoors. In New Zealand, it’s seen more often in the South Island and during wintertime, with around 30% of adults being below recommended levels. It’s essential for good bones, as a deficiency can lead to rickets (soft, bowed bones) in kids and osteomalacia in adults.

Protein

The final nutrient we’re touching on is protein. An adequate protein intake is vital for peak bone mass during childhood (as mentioned earlier) and for looking after our bones as we age.

So many foods are rich sources of protein, so it isn’t hard to find, but again, we need to ensure we’re getting enough! The amount we need varies significantly with age, but for most adults, 46 grams per day for females and 56 grams per day for males is sufficient. 

sheep milk is high in calcium, protein, and vitamin d - all help prevent osteoporosis

How Can Sheep Milk Help Prevent Osteoporosis?

Sheep milk is a fantastic choice to meet your daily calcium and protein needs. In fact, all dairy products are good sources of calcium and protein that is easy for your body to use, but sheep milk contains the highest concentrations of both. 

Plant-based milk products and foods such as broccoli, kale and almonds also contain calcium and protein, but in much lower amounts.

table showing the calcium content of dairy products including sheep milk
Calcium content of dairy products, including sheep milk.

As you’ll see above, 200 ml of sheep milk contains around 380 mg of calcium – much higher than comparable products. Some studies even put the average calcium content of sheep milk at 400 mg per 200 ml! 

While some disagree on just how much calcium we need, nutritionists agree it’s essential for a healthy body. The World Health Organisation recommends a calcium intake of 500 mg per day, with the International Osteoporosis Foundation recommending the average adult gets 1000 mg per day. 

Depending on which recommendation you follow, drinking just one 200 ml glass of sheep milk daily will provide you with between 40 to 75% of your recommended daily intake!

When it comes to protein, sheep milk far outweighs all other kinds of milk, with 6 grams per 100 ml! Compare that to 4 g in goat milk, 3.5 g in cow milk, and less than 3 g in plant milk options.

For women, early prevention of osteoporosis is particularly important. Ensuring you do everything you can to maintain your bone health is crucial, and getting enough calcium, vitamin D, and protein is one such thing.

The image below from the International Osteoporosis Foundation shows how rapidly bone loss occurs after menopause starts and the protection provided by oestrogen is lost.

SOURCE: International Osteoporosis Foundation.

6 Quick Tips to Get More Calcium in Your Lifestyle

The following tips can help you get more calcium (and other beneficial nutrients) into your diet and help your body avoid losing calcium.

  1. Increase your milk consumption and consider switching your usual milk to sheep milk because it contains more calcium, protein, and other nutrients than alternate kinds of milk
  2. Add yoghurt or cheese to your lunches. Check out the range of sheep milk cheese Jones Family Farm produces. From gouda to havarti to cheddar, there’s something to suit all tastes!
  3. Eat leafy greens such as kale and collards, beans, chickpeas, and tofu
  4. Talk to a registered dietician or your GP to see if a calcium supplement might be right for you
  5. Exercise, including weight-bearing activity, is crucial for building and maintaining not only muscle but also bones!
  6. Avoid excess salt, caffeine, and alcohol. Too much sodium or caffeine can increase calcium loss, and excessive alcohol (as in more than two drinks per day) can reduce osteogenesis (bone formation) 
6 x Sheep milk Bottles

Milk and Osteoporosis – Drinking Sheep Milk May Help Protect Against Osteoporosis!

The bottom line is that dairy milk and eating dairy food, especially sheep milk products, is an easy way to get enough calcium, protein, and other nutrients that help keep your bones strong and your body healthy.

Getting enough nutrients is critical for strong bones and preventing osteoporosis, and while the best time to start a healthy, nutrient-rich diet is in childhood, we must do so at all life stages.

So, follow our tips above to get more calcium in your lifestyle, increase your milk consumption, and give sheep dairy a try.

If you want to learn about other health benefits of drinking sheep milk, check out our other article. 

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