Milk does a body good. And all the more so if you are on the birth control pill, according to the authors of a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The use of oral contraceptives may prevent young women from developing the bone mass they need earlier in life to reduce the risk osteoporosis later on.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes the bones to become weak and thin, increasing the risk of fractures. Among women, it is most common after menopause, when a drop in estrogen causes the bones to lose mass.
Getting enough calcium earlier in life has been shown to play a role in preventing osteoporosis because it allows you to build strong, healthy bones. Researchers at Purdue University say this is even more important for women on the pill, because it may ward off some of the bone loss associated with oral contraceptive use.
In their study, the researchers looked at the impact of calcium on the bones of 135 healthy women between the ages of 18 and 30, 57 of whom reported being on the pill. At the start of the study, all of the women were consuming less than 800 mg of calcium a day, less than the 1,000 mg daily that Health Canada recommends for this age group.
The women were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a "medium" dairy group that consumed 1,000 mg to 1,100 mg of calcium a day, a "high" dairy group, where participants consumed 1,200 mg to 1,300 mg of calcium, or a control group, where participants continued to eat the same amount of dairy as they had before the start of the study. Women in the medium and high dairy groups received dietary counseling, with an emphasis on consuming low- and non-fat milk. All of the subjects kept a daily record of dairy intake, which was submitted on a monthly basis. The intervention lasted a year.
At the start of the study, at six months into the study, and again after a year, the researchers measured the women's bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mineral content (BMC). Birth control users on the low dairy diet showed a decrease in bone mineral density, while women in both dairy intervention groups showed a small increase in bone density.
"The results of this study demonstrate that increased dairy intake improved total hip BMD and BMC as well as protected oral contraceptive (OCP) users from both the total hip and spine BMD loss," the researchers wrote.
"The loss of spine and total hip BMD poses a significant health threat as it is estimated that 8 of 10 women in the US use OCP at some time during the years in which peak bone mass is developing and many will use OCP for several years. It is estimated that small changes in bone mass can reduce the risk of fractures substantially."
They went on to add that "the results of this study demonstrate the importance of calcium intake on total hip BMD and spine BMD of OCP users, but unfortunately most young women are not consuming adequate amounts of calcium daily."
Researchers go on to emphasize the "need to encourage young women, particularly those using oral contraceptives, to consume recommended levels of calcium (1000 mg per day) in their diets to prevent compromising bone mass, "and so reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life."
If you are looking to boost your calcium intake, consider dairy products such as milk and yogurt as well as dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, canned salmon with bones, and tofu.
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