Do Dairy Products Decrease Osteoarthritis Risk? Yes and No

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We ladies have been hearing for ages now: "if you don't get enough calcium, your bones will rot," or something. But as evidence about dairy consumption and bone health keeps coming in, the relationship seems more complicated. Milk may protect women against degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee, but cheese does not — and it may even make osteoarthritis worse, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Following a large-scale survey of more than two thousand osteoarthritis (OA) sufferers (that's more than three thousand affected knees), CDC researchers found: 

In women, as milk intake increased (from none to less than 3, 4-6, and more than 7 glasses per week), the joint space width decreased (by 0.38 mm, 0.29 mm and 0.26 mm, respectively). Though obesity has been cited as a risk factor for knee OA, the researchers say their results remained, even after adjusting for body mass index (BMI). Additionally, they say there was no association between milk consumption and joint space width decreases in men.

In other words, the progression of the osteoarthritis, as measured by joint space width, was slower in frequent milk drinkers who are female than in women drinking less (or no) milk. Unfortunately, OA in the cheese-eaters continued to worsen. The CDC researchers hypothesize that saturated fats in cheese are to blame for bone marrow lesions associated with OA. But hey, even if you can't walk, at least saturated fats are still not as bad for your heart as we had previously been told!

Notice that this research focused on actual milk, not calcium supplements (the safety and effectiveness of which are questionable). Not sure where you're going to get all this moo juice? Don't pay for fancy organic products unless you want to; rest assured that even conventionally-produced dairy items are safe for human consumption. Or, you could try dating a farmer!


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