Osteoporosis and bone health

We have it drummed into us from an early age that we need cow’s milk and dairy products to help build strong bones. This is not true – in fact cow’s milk and dairy products may do more harm than good.

Most people in the world don’t drink cow’s milk or eat cheese, butter or any other dairy products.

All people can drink milk when they are born – we need to drink breastmilk for at least six months. What happens then is that most people (70 per cent of the world’s population) lose the ability to digest the sugar in milk after weaning, at around the age of two, a condition known as lactose intolerance. This is a natural process as mammals don’t need the ability to digest milk after infancy but due to a genetic change several thousand years ago, some people are able to digest lactose all their lives (mostly across Europe and North America). If you are lactose intolerant, drinking milk can cause bloating, farting, nausea and extreme digestive discomfort.

If you look at a map of the world, most osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) occurs in countries where people drink the most milk. The research shows that animal protein from meat and dairy foods may increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture.

To promote bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis it is important to avoid meat and dairy (animal protein), eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, get enough vitamin D (from food, supplements and sunshine), reduce sugar, caffeine and alcohol intake and don’t smoke. Many studies suggest exercise is the most important factor – it stimulates bone metabolism – and the best type for bone health is weight bearing exercise; walking, climbing stairs and dancing.


Find out more about vegan diets and bone health and dairy products and bone health.

Read our factsheet boning up on calcium.

See our Nutrition News on the topic.

Find out what you do need to eat each day here.

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