By Steve Sharpton, Parsons Training Center, Tucson, Arizona
October 11, 2015
As far as I can remember, I have always had relatively good luck with my bones. During my childhood, it was always common for me to see many of my classmates show up with random casts, mostly from doing dumb or abnormal things that so many kids would do. Of course, a lot of them were that way from sports, which I rarely played while growing up. Many of them also went on hiking and of road adventures and such, so the danger factor was certainly upped against their favor. I really only had a couple instances while growing up where I had a brush with broken appendages. One instance is where I broke my wrist in seventh grade and the other is where I most likely had a fractured bone in my ankle during the summer before my junior year of high school. I say “most likely" because it was an ailment that lasted all summer, something that made working for my father rather tough that particular summer. I’ll admit, there has been some close calls. Once I was trying to stomp down some garbage in a tall trash can and the can slipped out from under me. I landed on my shin on a hard concrete wall, but the only injury I got was some shaved skin that resulted in an interesting abscess on my leg that I have to this day. Then the other instance is when I fell off a ladder and could barely walk. I went to the emergency room during flu season, which shows you home much pain I was in. Of course, this was when I was 362 pounds and it was most likely a severely sprained ankle that pretty much sidelined me for a couple weeks. With the exception of those incidents, I have been pretty good about maintaining my balance and staying off the injury list. It was always kind of funny how I attributed my life long cheese habit to having such strong bones. I always looked at it as a stand off in my life, for I would eat exorbitant amounts of cheese and then guzzle down tons of soda, which I always believed to be the ultimate method of destroying your bone density (caffeine does deter calcium absorption!). I always joked I had plenty of calcium in my system, simply because I could eat a pound of cheese a day, usually because it was on top of a pizza or something. But what if everything we learned about calcium is just fiction? What if it is not as important as we all believed it to be? Well, a new study is indicating this might very well be the case. Researchers have concluded calcium might not be what it is cracked up to be, for the supposed strengthening of bones mat be exaggerated. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/diet-fitness/calcium-supplements-or-dairy-doesnt-strengthen-bones-study-finds-n435726
Now I have to look at this whole thing with a bit of skepticism, for as recent as ten years ago, studies were being released indicating calcium was important for the strengthening of bone structure. Even WebMD still lists calcium as an important component (but on the other hand, that might be because the study isn’t even a week old and has yet to go through stringent peer review). Now if this is really the case, this would be a massive blow to to the dairy industry. Earlier this year, the world was lit afire when the science world finally concluded milk really did nothing for the body other than add weight and aid inflammation. However, the dairy industry was quite efficient in countering all of this information, once again utilizing an old trope of theirs stating milk is a great source of protein (as if Americans are ever running short of the compound). Needless to say, the industry doesn’t seem to be suffering from the announcement, for I believe the brainwashing has run so deep, it doesn’t matter to a great many people. But what about this announcement? This is something that could be earth shattering.
I take this research with a grain of salt, for even though I understand dairy is not good for you (my waistline will indicate that sentiment), how can calcium not have the effect we have all been taught to believe for so long? Now to start with, this is regarded as a meta-analysis, which was conducted by Dr. Ian Reid from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Basically what is done, Dr. Reid and his associates gathered as many “high quality” studies on the subject they could to analyze a couple factors that each might share within their dense verbiage. The analysis was especially focusing on calcium supplements, which is quite a huge industry for the senior citizen crowd. As we get older, we are in greater danger for losing bone density, which is why it companies like Centrum have made a killing selling supplements to counteract the issues of aging. This especially rings true for women, who are more susceptible to osteoporosis than men. Now the way they gathered their conclusions came in the form of fractures within the subjects. While the base claim that dairy products strengthens the bones was another focus on the survey, the frequency of bone fractures didn’t seem to change amongst anyone regardless if they supplemented their intake or took it in through food. The researchers also seemed to reserve their harshest criticisms toward calcium supplements. The researchers ultimately concluded calcium supplements offer no real help in the strengthening of bones, for the frequency of fractures didn't seem to coincide with the claims. Now it has been written quite often about the lack of validity for supplements in general, for one publication even called them “expensive urine.” This really comes as no surprise to anyone except the people who possibly rely on calcium supplements. But while most people can accept the fact science cannot ultimately replace mother nature, how do we deal with the potential issue of calcium having no real affect on our bone density?
For decades, calcium has been the building blocks of health in our lives. No matter what our thoughts on milk were, we could at least eat other foods that were rich in calcium to offset the affect dairy would have on our lives and our body (foods like deep leafy greens for example). But to say calcium is not as important as we have made it out to be? That is a bit hard to swallow. Similar to what I have done before and before the internet starts taking a shine to this story, you once again have to analyze what exactly the researchers were looking for. They didn’t make the grandiose claim that calcium is useless in our lives, they merely made the claim that it is a bit overrated. Apparently, in another study, the group did determine that people who consumed a lot of dairy milk did have slightly better bone density, but the difference wasn’t really enough to live up to the hype of the product. So what are we to do? Let’s look at it this way. Consuming vast amounts of dairy is clearly something that is not good for us. Apparently researchers have believed for a while that milk doesn’t really help out in reducing fractures. There has even been studies that indicated milk will actually deplete your calcium stores if consumed too often. Inflammation and cardiovascular problems can also come to the forefront in relation to milk and dairy consumption. So here is the new question. If dairy really doesn’t provide the amount of calcium it kind of boasts, and calcium isn’t as necessary as first concluded….What are we to do to strengthen our bones?
First and foremost, relaxing may be the first thing we should do. While the world seems to change at a breakneck speed, we still may have future studies that might prove the initial findings of this survey to be wrong or exaggerated. For all we know, it might be the accumulation of facts were far too random to really create a good cross reference worthy of bringing to the public. Second of all, this may just mean you need to change your diet a bit, moving away from dairy in general as one gets older and either switching to calcium fortified replacement milks (like soy and almond milk….yup you can be a semi-hipster as well!) or finding a wider variety of calcium rich foods to eat (which are primarily plants…). But here is another thing some researchers are looking to make more of a norm….less bone density testing for the elderly. A couple years back, researchers at Harvard weighted the question of how often and when should we start getting our bodies checked for bone density. The elephant in the room for elderly people is always the hip, for just about every family seems to have a horror story in regards to someone dying not long after a hip injury (including my grandmother’s husband, who literally died months after breaking his hip many years ago). Anyway, the study conducted indicates we shouldn’t be so paranoid on the subject. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/study-suggests-testing-bone-health-in-older-people-less-often-may-be-safe-201309256701
The findings in this particular study are now being supported by some health groups. While people used to get tested for bone density just about every year, the new guideline suggests getting tested every couples years is not too bad. But of course, this all leads to just how one person is leading their life. Are they a smoker? Do they drink a lot of alcohol? Has any other members in the family suffered from osteoporosis? Does the said person exercise or just sit around the house all day? These are all variables that have to be weighed into the equation, for telling just about every elderly person to adhere to the same suggestions makes it difficult. But one thing the study did indicate is women should at minimum start getting tested at 65, with men starting at age 70. One should consider starting earlier if they have a family history. Now of course, this is still a varied approach to a rather expensive test, for this is one reason why some health agencies are suggesting a longer period in between tests.
Now, I have to be blunt, but this might come as a shock to a lot of people. Whether you wish to wait and see if any other newer studies can back up the analysis Dr. Reid and his associates started or accept it at face value, the bottom line seems to be pretty clear. Dairy just isn’t that great for you, and with no real link to sound health, it might be time for a great many to eliminate it from their lives. I’ll admit, giving up dairy was the toughest thing to do when I transitioned, especially since just about every food out there has some form of whey proteins and such in them. But the research is starting to stack up against dairy products. If they don’t really help your bones, or give you enough calcium (provided we need the calcium at all) or even keep you healthy, why keep including it in your diet? There was a great quote from an environmentalist that kind summed up milk. “You’re drinking baby cow growth fluid. You’re drinking something meant to turn a 65-pound calf into a 400-pound cow.” Anyway, I will have to wait and see myself in regards to this whole calcium debate, for the findings just seem to be too incredulous to sink in. But then again, I mostly get my calcium through plants, so we shall see how this all plays out.
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Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.