POST 50
04/07/2014 11:52 am ET

Not All Dairy Is Created Equal When It Comes To Women's Bone Health, Study Says

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If you want to strengthen your bones, reaching for calcium-rich dairy seems to be a no-brainer. But for women, it's best to reach for a big glass of the good stuff rather than snacking on cheese or yogurt.

A new study published today on the effects of dairy consumption on knee osteoarthritis found drinking milk can slow down the progression of the condition in women. The research, published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research, enlisted the help of 888 men and 1,260 women, ages 45 to 79, with knee osteoarthritis to study the link between dairy consumption and joint space width.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and is caused by the breakdown of cartilage at the ends of bones, leading to joint pain, stiffness, and loss of flexibility.

Researchers noted how often the participants drank milk or ate cheese or yogurt, as well as the their knee joint space width. After four years of follow-ups, they concluded that in women with osteoarthritis of the knee, drinking low-fat or skim milk slowed down the progression of the disease.

"Milk consumption plays an important role in bone health," said lead researcher Bing Lu of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Our findings indicate that women who frequently drink milk may reduce the progression of osteoarthritis."

The greatest decreases in joint space width were seen when milk consumption in women rose from none to under three glasses to week, followed by four to six glasses, and lastly by more than seven glasses.

Interestingly, the opposite was found when it came to cheese consumption. Women who consumed more cheese were seen to have increases in joint space width, while yogurt had no effect.

Osteoarthritis is more common in women, especially after age 50. Studies have shown strength training can help reduce the pain caused by the disease just as well as medications. Weight management is also key, with studies showing that weight loss and reduction in BMI can lower the risk of osteoarthritis, especially in women who are overweight.

While further studies need to be done on the link between milk consumption and osteoarthritis, researchers say the results of the new study raise an important point.

"With the aging population and increase in life expectancy, there is an urgent need for effective methods to manage osteoarthritis," researchers Shivani Sahni and Robert McLean said in a related study published in the journal. "The study by Lu et al. provides the first evidence that increasing fat-free of low-fat milk consumption may slow the progression of osteoarthritis among women who are particularly burdened by osteoarthritis of the knee, which can lead to functional disability."

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