Dr Justine Butler
demolishes theenduring myth thatyou need cow’s milkfor healthy bones!
hen I was in my early twenties Ihad a very slim friend whoseemed to survive on justcoffee and cigarettes.Oh yes,and herdaily pint of cow’s milk.This,she toldme,would ensure she kept her teethin her old age.Twenty years on and weare still plagued by the myth thatcow’s milk is essential for strong,healthy bones and teeth.What is the magic component of cow’smilk that makes us think if we don’tdrink it our teeth will crumble and ourspines collapse? Calcium - that’s what itis! But is dairy food really the bestsource of this essential nutrient? Milk consumption in the UK has been indecline for 30 years now and we haven’tall lost our teeth nor seen our bonesdisintegrate - so what’s the big deal andhow is this ‘calcium gap’being filled?Calcium is a mineral - a veryimportant one,along with others thebody needs to function efficiently,including magnesium,phosphorus,sodium,potassium and zinc.Calcium isthe fifth most abundant mineral on theearth’s crust and the most abundant inthe human body,accounting for aroundtwo per cent of total body weight.Itplays an important structural role inmaintaining bone health and strength -in fact,around 99 per cent of thecalcium we eat is deposited in thebones and teeth.The other one percent is responsible for vital functionsthat regulate muscle contraction,heartbeat,blood clotting and thenervous system.Vitamin D aids calcium absorption andhelps to keep it in the body.Youmostly get it through exposing theskin to sunlight and from fortifiedmargarines.Fair-skinned adults needabout 15 minutes two to three times aweek.Face and arms are enough andyou are only likely to be vitamin Ddeficient in the UK if you get littleexposure all the year round (1).Worryingly,there have been somerecent cases of vitamin D deficiency (2)and campaigns to get people to cover-up and use sunscreens to avoidultraviolet exposure may beresponsible.The Government statesthat we should expose ourselves to thesun for ten to fifteen minutes and thenapply sun block of at least factor 15 tohelp prevent skin cancer.Vitamin D isalso important for avoiding heartdisease,breast,bowel and prostatecancers,multiple sclerosis,arthritis andsome other chronic conditions.Sunlightand vitamin D,it seems,are moreimportant than previously thought.Vitamin D is so important thatwithout it,calcium deficiency is likelyto be the result even if you eat plentyof the stuff.The consequences areextremely serious,resulting in ricketsor osteomalacia - softening of thebones.A more common problem isosteoporosis,or porous bones.Bones are made of a thick outer shell anda strong inner mesh filled with a proteincalled collagen,calcium salts and other
Boning upon calcium!