Non-Dairy Calcium: Milk, Calcium King or Jester?

According to the enormous 12-year Harvard study of 77,761 female nurses, as published in the American Journal of Public Health (1997, volume 87):  “…women consuming greater amounts of calcium from dairy foods had significantly increased risks of hip fractures, while no increase in fracture risk was observed for the same levels of calcium from nondairy sources.”


Wait a minute, dairy products could actually be a cause of hip fractures from osteoporosis? This landmark study has risen more than a few eyebrows in the medical community. Although this is a giant study in its own right, it certainly does not stand alone in the evidence for a dairy-free lifestyle.

In a review of 34 published studies in 16 different countries, researchers at Yale University discovered that the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis, including the United States, England, Sweden, and Finland, were coincidentally also the highest consumers of dairy products. As further proof, countries with historically low rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture, such as China, are seeing a proportionate increase in the incidence of osteoporosis with the adoption of Westernized dietary habits.

But, how can this be…according to the USDA, milk is one of our major food groups? The answer is not completely clear, but there are a couple of strong theories circulating in the scientific community. High dairy intake provides a high level of animal protein, which in turn is high in sulfur-containing amino acids. The body buffers the effects of these amino acids by releasing calcium from the bones, and excreting it from the body. In addition, animal foods, particularly milk, contain very high levels of phosphorous, which may interfere with calcium absorption.

The tides are turning on the osteoporosis front. Keeping strong bones may depend more on preventing calcium loss than on increasing calcium intake. For this reason, many renowned researchers are changing their calcium vote from milk to plant sources such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

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About Alisa Fleming

Alisa is the founder of, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

View all posts by Alisa Fleming →


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