The Dairy Myth: When Milk Doesn’t Do a Body Good

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Got Milk Superman 0 1080X675 1 | The Dairy Myth: When Milk Doesn'T Do A Body Good


Dairy: good or bad? Contrary to what the USDA has claimed, dairy is not the best way to get in your calcium.  Read on to learn how to keep your bones strong and healthy (and why dairy products may do the opposite): 

“Got milk?”


Anyone remember these ads that were highly popular in the 90s?


While Brittany Spears’ milk mustache may or may not have been enough to inspire you to pour a glass for yourself, these ads definitely raises awareness for Americans that “milk does a body good.”


Britney Spears Got Milk?


Ask anyone the question:


How do you make your bones strong?


And chances are, you will get the response: Drink more milk!


Through popular advertising campaigns, and the USDA’s Food Pyramid, we have been conditioned to believe that dairy is the answer for strong bones.




Just the other day, I was speaking with a woman in my office who reported on a recent check-up with her MD.


“I have early signs of osteoporosis,” the 56-year-old said, asking, “What should I do to help it? I’ve always eaten dairy—maybe not a lot of milk nowadays, but cheese and yogurt. I just don’t understand. Maybe I need more milk?”


My response was not one she was expecting to hear:


“Dairy intake is not the answer.”




“What?!” she said.


Get this: The dairy industry has been working hard the last 50 years convincing us that pasteurized dairy products (such as milk, yogurt and cheese) increases bioavailable calcium levels.


This is a total LIE!


The pasteurization process actually creates calcium carbonate (which has absolutely no way of entering the cells alone). So what the body does is pull the calcium from the bones and other tissues in order to buffer the calcium carbonate in the blood. And this process actually causes osteoporosis.

Say what?!


Read on.


Osteoporosis Defined

Osteoporosis—a bone disease characterized by decreased bone mass and poor bone quality— has become an epidemic in our country, afflicting 10-million Americans, with another 18-million at risk for developing the disease, and impacting four times as many women as men.




I, myself, am a living testimony.


Diagnosed at age 23 with osteoporosis (thinning bones and bone loss) of my hips and spine, I became part of these statistics—busting the myth that osteoporosis just impacts individuals in the 50+ category.




Given a handful of lifestyle and nutrition factors are not in place, you too could very well be a statistic—at any age.


My diagnosis was directly attributed to years (years) of malnutrition—subsisting off very poor nutrient quality (packaged, processed foods, bars, shakes, powders), adherence to a low-fat/no-fat dietary protocol, overexercise, and hormonal imbalances (amenorrhea).


Even though I was raised on dairy (milk was a ‘required’ standard beverage at breakfast with cereal and dinnertime; ice cream was my favorite sweet treat; cheese and yogurt were regular snacks)—and even ate dairy throughout the days of my eating disorder (non-fat fro yo, Fage 0% Greek yogurt and Yoplait Light & Fit, fat-free string cheese, Skim Milk)—supposedly getting all my ‘calcium in’—I somehow still fell victim to this silent ‘bone killer.’


Essentially the repercussions of osteoporosis include: a higher risk for fractures and stress fractures, wonky menstrual cycles, and generalized weakness, pain or even disability all around.


In other words: I was devastated.


However, the story does not end there.


As I began to lead my life of recovery—feeding my body consistently and appropriately; finding life outside my eating disorder; exercising to build my body up—not break it down—I somewhat forgot about the devastation of my diagnosis.


Sure, I had a ‘label’ on the quality of my bones, but all I could really do by this point was focus on taking the best care of myself NOW—not dwelling on the past.


Two years later, I found myself in my own MD’s office for a regular check-up, along with a bone-density scan and the results this time were…shocking.




Reversed bone loss?!




According to the bone scan, my osteoporosis results had seemingly disappeared, reversing into the less critical form of bone loss: osteopenia (the stage before osteoporosis).


“What have you been doing differently? This is great news!” the doc said.


Hmmmm….thinking for a moment…I knew I had been fueling my body with quality nutrition, lifting weights regularly and doing more HIIT style training (CrossFit)—as opposed to chronic cardio, and otherwise, having fun with living my life…but I honestly had not been actively trying to reverse the disease more than these forms of self care.


The ironic thing? Dairy was NOT part of my daily diet. Nor was a calcium supplement.


I am lactose intolerant, and therefore my digestive system does NOT like me much when dairy finds its way into my system.


Evaluating my diet with my doctor, I told her I had been eating: “Lots of meat and veggies—especially leafy greens, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, some fruit, little starch, no sugar and lots of water. I’ve also been taking a probiotic and some Vitamin D and a fish oil. But that’s about it.”


“I have no words; but, whatever you are doing…keep it up,” the doc said.


And so I have.


The Dairy Myth

Don'T Believe Everything You Hear.
Don’t believe everything you hear.


It wasn’t until nutrition therapy school that everything began to make SO MUCH MORE SENSE—things my doctor couldn’t even explain.


Three points to note:


  1. Calcium is not the ‘end all, be all’ when it comes to building strong bones.


  1. Moreover, while we do need some calcium in our diets, dairy products are not the primary—or even preferred source—for this nutrient.


  1. And, lastly, if you are sensitive to dairy products—and still consuming them—you may be doing your body more harm than good.


We’ll touch on each of these:



  1. Calcium is NOT the End All Be All


What is calcium in the first place?


Calcium is a mineral found in many foods; and once in the body, almost all calcium is stored in bones and teeth, where it supports their structure and hardness.


The body also needs calcium for muscles to move and for nerves to carry messages between the brain and every body part. In addition, calcium is used to help blood vessels move blood throughout the body and to help release hormones and enzymes that affect almost every function in the human body.


In short: Calcium indeed does help make and maintain strong bones.


HOWEVER, calcium is NOT the end all be all.


In fact, when it comes to absorbing and actually getting your calcium in in the first place…you actually need a handful of OTHER minerals and vitamins present to even reap the benefits of calcium.


You see, in order to be absorbed, you actually need to have a balance of a host of other co-factors (other vitamins and minerals) in your body at their peak levels. Much like Vitamin D is a requirement to absorbing your healthy fats and Omega-3 Fish Oil in order to reap the benefits of essential fatty acids, you need the following vitamins and minerals in order to get the biggest bang for your calcium buck:


Magnesium (Role: makes up the structure of the bone matrix, and it is pulled from the bones if blood magnesium levels drop, making it a known risk factor for osteoporosis; Found in: Supplements, 400-800 mg per day; I like THIS drink here).


Vitamin A (Role: Required to absorb calcium; Found in: egg yolks, liver—eat 1/4 pound of liver per week or supplement with 1 tsp cod liver oil daily to get adequate intake).


Vitamin D (Role: Required to absorb calcium; Found in: sunshine, salmon, sardines and supplements)


Vitamin K (Role: responsible for keeping calcium in your bones and teeth and out of your bloodstream; Found in: leafy greens, fermented foods, milk and dairy products like ghee and grassfed butter)


  1. Food Sources (Not Just Dairy)


With the understanding that you need more than just calcium in order to actually absorb and use your calcium, now you can begin to incorporate the ‘just right’ amount of calcium you need in a day (no supplements needed).


However, this is not just limited to dairy products.


I generally recommend my clients get at least a conservative amount of 600-800 mg of calcium daily from their food; this may seem less than the USDA’s ‘requirement’ for 1000-1300 mg, but an excess of calcium can actually have the reverse effect (too much calcium to be absorbed at once that actually kills off osteoblasts sooner—the remodeling agents—because they can’t handle the load; in turn, your bones are more at risk to porous holes from the premature death of otherwise necessary re-builders). Just as bodybuilders have stronger muscles, but not healthier muscles. Actually, as they grow older, they experience more muscle problems.


The same is true for the bones; the more their aging is accelerated, the sooner their bone modeling capacity will be exhausted [See more on this process here]


This is easily accomplished in any one of these foods (chart compliments to Chris Kresser) below:





YES, milk is not the end all be all.


  1. Milk Does NOT Do All Body’s Good


This is not necessarily a “case against dairy.”


As you can see, dairy is still listed on the chart above, and some dairy can be beneficial for bone health (Given you are consuming a quality—not processed version—of dairy from full-fat, organic, grass-fed dairy products! Why? They contain the most bioavailable and easily recognized nutrients by the body ).


However, if you (like me) are sensitive to dairy…that is in essence, where a huge problem lies with dairy products: You may not actually be getting all that calcium in that you think you are in the first place, if you are sensitive.


A vast majority of people (65% of people) do NOT contain enough stomach enzymes (lactase) to digest lactose in dairy.


Our guts just weren’t designed to handle the man-made versions of dairy products many people consume.


If you think about it, we are the ONLY species who consumes ANOTHER animal’s milk—past being of ‘baby’ breast-feeding age.


As we grow up, our guts were really not designed to digest “dairy” products outside of our mother’s milk.


“But I’ve eaten dairy all my life. I feel completely normal,” you say.


However, is your ‘normal’ actually normal?


The side effects of dairy consumption include:


  • Leaky gut
  • Digestive issues (episodes of constipation, bloating, diarrhea, IBS)
  • Inflammation
  • Skin breakouts (acne as a teen anyone?)
  • Attention and focus issues/ ADD/ADHD
  • Anxiety and easily stressed out
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Low immunity


These ‘norms’ very well may have been your norm for quite some time…but they don’t have to be.


In fact, by consuming dairy when you are actually sensitive to it, will also have the reverse effect on all the ‘nutrition’ you think you are getting from it (impacting your absorption of it in the first place).


If you have a sensitivity to dairy and take it out of your diet, you may very well notice that your: digestion improves, your skin clears up, you get sick less often, your anxiety goes down, your attention increases…and you feel stronger more than ever!


Instead of stripping other nutrients from your body (due to absorption and leaky gut), you will actually be able to absorb all your nutrients, heal your gut (if it was impacted by your dairy intake) and get the biggest bang for your nutrition buck all around!



Concluding Thoughts:


Contrary to popular belief that we all need to wear milk mustaches or consume at least three servings of dairy per day…it’s actually not necessary after all. There are plenty of other ways to get your calcium (and other vitamins and minerals in) that are dairy-free.


And, if you have osteoporosis—or think you are at risk for it—there is HOPE.


A few take home points:


  • Feed your body with a balanced diet—including plenty of leafy greens, fatty acids, proteins (amino acids), water.
  • Ensure you get enough calories and energy and fats! (If you are undereating, you are cutting yourself SHORT…And you are only going to undermine your nutrition in the first place—undernourishing your body will lead to hormonal imbalances, low energy, and inability to ‘build’ anything in the first place).
  • Get in some weight training, heavy work and/or HIIT
  • And…Don’t believe everything you hear.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
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