Calcium and Dairy

There are many popular myths surrounding calcium and dairy milk, that might make people hesitate when considering a vegan diet. Most of these are based out-dated science, advertising from the diary industry, and growing up during a time in history when the dairy industry had a strong influence on government policies. Most of us also have rather naive ideas about where dairy milk comes from.


Dairy consumption has also been linked to higher risk for various cancers, especially to cancers of the reproductive system, especially prostate and breast cancers. This is most likely due to increases in insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which is found in cow’s milk. Case-control studies in diverse populations have shown a strong and consistent association between serum IGF-1 concentrations and prostate cancer risk. In one study, men with the highest levels of IGF-1 had more than four times the risk of prostate cancer, compared with those who had the lowest levels. In the Physicians Health Study, 21,660 participants were tracked for 28 years, and researchers found an increased risk of prostate cancer for those who consumed 2.5 servings of dairy products per day as compared with those who consumed ≤0.5 servings a day.

In addition to increased levels of IGF-1, estrogen metabolites are considered risk factors for cancers of the reproductive system, including cancers of the breasts, ovaries, and prostate. Estrogen metabolites can affect cellular proliferation, causing cells to grow rapidly and aberrantly, which can lead to cancer growth. Consumption of milk and dairy products contributes to the majority (60-70 percent) of estrogen intake in the human diet.

In a large study that included 1,893 women from the ‘Life After Cancer Epidemiology Study’ who had been diagnosed with early-stage invasive breast cancer, as little as 0.5 servings a day of high-fat dairy product consumption was associated with significantly increased mortality rates. Estrogenic hormones reside primarily in fat.

In a Swedish study, consumption of lactose and dairy products was positively linked to ovarian cancer. A similar study conducted by the Iowa Women’s Health Study, found that women who consumed more than one glass of milk per day had a 73% higher chance of developing ovarian cancer than women who drank less than one glass per day. While more studies need to be done, it’s possible that this link is due to the breakdown of the milk sugar lactose into galactose, a sugar which may be toxic to ovarian cells.


Insulin-dependent (type 1 or childhood-onset) diabetes is linked to consumption of dairy products in infancy. A Finnish study of 3,000 infants in with genetically increased risk for developing diabetes showed that early introduction of cow’s milk increased susceptibility to type 1 diabetes. In a study of 142 children with diabetes, 100% had high levels of an antibody to a cow’s milk protein. The American Academy of Pediatrics observed up to a 30% reduction in the incidence of type 1 diabetes in infants who avoided exposure to cow’s milk protein for at least the first three months of their lives.


Calcium is necessary for bone health, but the benefits of calcium intake do not exist after consumption passes a certain threshold (more isn’t always better). Consuming more than approx. 600 mg per day (easily achieved without dairy products or calcium supplements) does not improve bone integrity, and clinical research has shown that dairy products have little or no benefit for bones.

*Harvard Nurses’ Health Study: 72,000 women followed for 18 years, showed no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk.

*According to a 2005 review published in Pediatrics, milk consumption does not improve bone integrity in children.

*Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012: Researchers concluded that dairy products and calcium do not prevent stress fractures in adolescent girls.

To decrease the risk of osteoporosis:

*Reduce the sodium intake in your diet (e.g. not adding salt to food and avoiding processed foods)

*Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.

*Ensure adequate calcium intake from plant foods such as kale, broccoli, and other leafy green vegetables and beans.


*Reduce caffeine and cola intake.

*Get some sunlight, and monitor vitamin D levels.

*Monitor vitamin K levels.


Maintaining healthy calcium levels


What compromises calcium?



High protein and refined sugar diets

Excess intake of fat and/or salt

Excess supplemental zinc or iron intake

Magnesium deficiency or excess supplement use

Poor digestive function

Chronic Vit C deficiency


Good whole-plant food sources of calcium:

One cup of cooked kale, 2⁄3 cup of tofu, or 1 and 2⁄3 of a cup of broccoli provide the same amount of absorbable calcium as 1 cup of cow’s milk.

Some good plant sources of calcium include hard tofu, almonds, unhulled tahini (sesame seed paste) and green leafy vegetables such as Kale and Asian greens (e.g. bok choy, Chinese broccoli).




(links will be embedded soon) 
The Nutrient Bible, Henry Osieki, 8th Edition

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