Christiane Northrup, MD, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, states, “The truth is that calcium isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when it comes to bone health. Statistics show that most industrially advanced countries have the highest fracture rates, although they consume more dairy products than other countries.”
Dr. Northrup’s assertions are based on conclusions from several longitudinal studies. She says, “A 2003 Harvard study looked at diet and hip fractures among 72,337 older women for eighteen years and concluded that ‘neither milk, nor a high-calcium diet, appears to reduce (fracture risk).’”
So, what’s a person to believe when it comes to a good diet to improve bone health?
Dr. Northrup describes the research of Amy Lanou, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina, Ashville, and medical writer Michael Castleman, who reviewed 1,200 studies on the dietary risk factors for osteoporosis in researching their book, Building Bone Vitality: A Revolutionary Diet Plan to Prevent Bone Loss and Reverse Osteoporosis (McGraw Hill, 2009).
Two-thirds of the studies reviewed by Lanou and Castleman shows that a high calcium intake does not reduce the number of bone fractures.
But what the researchers did find to have a positive impact on bone health was that eating fruits and vegetables improved bone density in a whopping 85 percent of studies that looked at the effects of such foods.
Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, note that calcium plays a role in dietary health. “It’s just not the Holy Grail it’s been made out to be,” the researchers say. “Think of calcium as the bricks in a brick wall of bones. Bricks are essential, for sure, but without enough mortar – which comes in the form of about sixteen other nutrients – the wall can’t hold itself up.”
Why fruits and vegetables are essential for bone health has to do with the acid/alkaline balance in foods and in our body.
Lanou and Castleman explain, “The key to preventing osteoporosis is eating a low-acid diet. The basic idea is that a diet high in animal protein (meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy) and high-glycemic foods (refined carbs) makes blood slightly more acidic (in part because protein is composed of amino acids). When blood is more acidic, the body tries to balance or neutralize it by adding alkaline material the only way it can – by leeching some of the calcium compounds stored in bone; eventually, osteoporosis results.”
What then, is the formula to balance acid/alkaline in your diet to improve your bone health?
Lanou and Castleman have found that “it takes three servings of fruits and vegetables (which are alkaline) to neutralize the acid in just one serving of animal food (which should be the size of a deck of cards), and two servings of fruits and vegetables to neutralize the acid in one serving of grain.”
The researchers suggest you might want to join your vegetarian and vegan friends for a meal once a week – socialize while you improve your acid/alkaline balance.