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Dairy products and bone health: how strong is the scientific evidence?

  • Ellen G. H. M. van den Heuvel (a1) and Jan M. J. M. Steijns (a1)

The relevance of dairy produce for the diminishment of osteoporotic risk is still a matter of scientific debate due to the outcome of a few single observational studies. This review will address the most robust point estimate on the role of dairy products, as reported in systematic reviews and meta-analyses on randomised controlled trials in the case of bone mineralisation or prospective studies in the case of fracture risk. Plain dairy products or those fortified with Ca and/or vitamin D improve total body bone mineral content (BMC) by 45–50 g over 1 year when the daily baseline Ca intake is lower than 750 mg in Caucasians and Chinese girls. In Caucasian and Chinese women, Ca from (fortified) dairy products increases bone mineral density (BMD) by 0·7–1·8 % over 2 years dependent on the site of measurement. Despite the results on BMC, there are currently no studies that have investigated the potential of dairy products to reduce fracture risk in children. In adult Caucasian women, daily intake of 200–250 ml of milk is associated with a reduction in fracture risk of 5 % or higher. In conclusion, the role of dairy products for BMC or BMD has been sufficiently established in Chinese and Caucasian girls and women. In Caucasian women, drinking milk also reduces fracture risk. More research on the role of dairy products within the context of bone health-promoting diets is needed in specific ethnicities, other than Chinese and Caucasians, and in men.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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* Corresponding author: Dr Ellen G. H. M. van den Heuvel, email
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