“Milk is good for your bones.” Even when enclosed in quotes, that sentence brings up over 14,000 results in a Google search. The common adage kind of makes sense, right? Milk has calcium. Your bones have calcium in them. But more evidence seems to show that the old saying about milk might be just that: a saying. As long as you’re not calcium deficient, extra calcium might not be better for you at all.
The revelation comes from a new meta-analysis led by Dr. Ian Reid of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His team looked at dozens of previously published studies to determine if getting additional calcium through dietary intake like milk or through supplements led to a reduced risk of bone fracture—with the assumption being that non-fracturing bones are “good” bones. According to their systematic review, which specifically dealt with studies of people over the age of 50, “Dietary calcium intake is not associated with risk of fracture, and there is no clinical trial evidence that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources prevents fractures,” NBC News quoted the study as saying. For the record, the paper also states, “Evidence that calcium supplements prevent fractures is weak and inconsistent.”
Of course, this review only looks at studies of aging adults. It says little about the rest of us. (I say “us” assuming we’re all young and hip here.) But it’s not the first time milk’s purported benefits have been questioned. As Live Science pointed out earlier this year in an article wondering if kids really need to drink milk, a 2013 study from the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that kids who live in countries with lower rates of milk consumption also have lower fracture rates. According to Amy Lanou, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, “The best way for kids to take good care of bones is to go outside and play” (assuming their play doesn’t involve jumping off roofs or swinging from 2x4s).
All this isn’t to imply there’s anything wrong with milk. It simply brings into question whether our pseudo-scientific assumption about milk and bones is as accurate as our mothers wanted us to believe. It doesn’t mean we can’t focus on some of milk’s good traits, though—like how it provides us with a medium for drinking chocolate.