One of milk's big sells — aside from being a nice complement to breakfast cereal — is that its high calcium-content helps build stronger bones. A big new study of more than 100,000 Swedes suggests this is absolutely false: it finds no correlation between stronger bones and milk consumption.
The new research, published British Medical Journal, examined whether consuming more dairy products correlated with longer life or fewer fractures. They used a 20-year data set of how much dairy tens of thousands of Swedish people consumed daily.
Most of what they learned about milk was not good news. They found that, in both women and men, higher milk consumption correlated with higher rates of death. And in women, those who consumed more milk were also more likely to have fractured a bone, not less.
The research follows on another large 2005 study, of more than 70,000 nurses, which also showed milk to have no protective benefit against fractures and a separate review, also published in 2005, that found "scant evidence" to support "dairy product intake for promoting adolescent bone mineralization."
Taken together, most of the evidence does seem to stack up against milk as a way to prevent broken bones. But is consuming milk actively harmful? The new, Swedish study did, after all, find higher death rates and more broken bones among those who consumed more dairy products. And they argue that could be the fault of lactose, which in some research has been shown to be harmful to health.
There is less evidence on this point and, as obesity expert Yoni Freedhoff argues, one correlational study probably should not be enough to write off milk altogether. Drink milk if you like it, he argues, but not because you think you're getting some special health benefit out of it.
"I'm still comfortable with my belief that milk is neither a magic fairy brew nor a devil's broth and should be consumed in the name of loving it, but not in the name of your health," he writes.