For Bone Health, Calcium Isn't The Whole Story

According to a study recently presented at the annual Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Washington, D.C., to ensure a lifetime of healthy bones it's vital to make sure that children get plenty of an essential mineral. While that may sound like advice we've heard all our lives, some eyes were opened upon hearing that the crucial nutrient for bone health wasn't calcium, but magnesium.

As Dr. Steven A. Abrams, lead author of the report — and professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in my hometown of Houston — explained, "Calcium is important, but, except for those children and adolescents with very low intakes, may not be more important than magnesium."

Actually, it's been known for some time that magnesium is critical for bone health in adults. This report makes it clear that it's important that humans of all ages get enough of this element, which is plentiful in many plant-based (i.e., vegan) foods, including a variety of nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and those dark leafy greens (chlorophyll contains magnesium) that we should all be enjoying in abundance.

So why isn't the magnesium–bone health link better known by the public? The dairy industry has spent a great deal of money trying to convince us that calcium — which is not coincidentally found in the products it's peddling — is the key to preventing bone loss. But while Americans consume tremendous amounts of calcium, our rates of osteoporosis are among the highest in the world. Yet the Chinese, who consume roughly half as much calcium (mostly from nondairy sources), have a much lower prevalence of this condition.

Medical studies indicate that instead of preventing the disease, milk may actually increase women's risk of getting osteoporosis. Harvard Medical School's Nurses' Health Study, which followed more than 238,000 women, found that those who consumed two or more glasses of milk per day had a higher risk of breaking a hip or an arm than those who drank one glass or fewer. Attempting to break down and buffer the waste products from the large amount of animal protein in cow's milk may cause the kidneys to have to draw extra calcium out of the bones.

What's more, as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine points out, dairy foods "contribute significant amounts of cholesterol and are the number one source of saturated fat in the diet. Diets high in fat and saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease" as well as other serious health problems, such as cancer and strokes.

Of course, that's not all that the milk business wants to keep hidden from you. It has made it abundantly clear that it would rather you remained unaware of the cruel conditions for cows typically found in dairy factory farming as revealed by undercover investigations by PETA.

To learn more about eating for your health, including information about going vegan, and to get free vegan recipes, please visit

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