Does Milk Build Strong Bones?
Does Milk Build Strong Bones?

Your questions answered by a registered dietitian nutritionist

Did you know that babies are born with over 270 bones, many of which fuse together as we age, leaving us with 206 separate bones as adults? Bones make up a significant part of our body weight and building strong bones that last a lifetime is important.

As bones are forming in the womb, we rely on our mother to supply us with calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, magnesium and protein, among other bone-building nutrients. When we’re born, we receive most of these nutrients from our mothers’ milk or infant formula. Once weaned, we must rely on the foods we eat to provide us with enough nutrients for our bones to lengthen and strengthen. Milk is a rock-star food for bones.

milk and dairy builds strong bonesHow Does Milk Build Strong Bones?

Dairy foods provides a combination of four nutrients—calcium, phosphate, vitamin D and protein—present in the appropriate ratio that allows for the unique interaction favoring bone and skeletal muscle growth and development. This mixture of nutrients is like a gasoline mixture with just the right additives to get maximum performance – and winning mixture to lengthen and strengthen bones.

Girls’ bones grow and lengthen until about age 18, and boys stop around age 20. After that, the body focuses on strengthening and hardening bones, using dietary minerals like calcium and phosphorus to build bone until about age 30. This is known as peak bone density.

Building peak bone density is kind of like having a savings account. Up until age 30, you’re able to sock away all those minerals in your bones, building up your wealth (or health) for the future. That's why it is crucial that children, teenagers and young adults get enough bone-building nutrients. Drinking milk or eating dairy three times a day is the easiest way to build strong bones.

Not sure if you’re getting enough calcium? Take our Calcium Quiz.

milk builds strong bonesAre Your Bones Strong Enough?

Our bones are not hard and lifeless; rather they are living, growing tissues in our bodies, even after age 30. The scientific term is “remodeling” in which bone is broken down and built back up continuously; so a steady supply of bone building nutrients is necessary regardless of how old you are.

Unfortunately, not enough people build strong bones in their youth and 54 million Americans have either low bone density or osteoporosis, a condition that can lead to debilitating fractures as we age. In fact, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men over age 50 will break a bone because of it.

Osteoporosis is known as the silent disease since you can't tell you have it without getting a bone scan or breaking a bone. If you think you are at risk for low bone mineral density (if your mother or grandmother has osteoporosis), increasing your milk and dairy intake now may help.

Build Strong Bones At Any Age

It's never too late to improve your bone health. If you're under 30, take advantage of it and start building up that savings account. If you're over 30, start incorporating at least 3 servings of milk and dairy into your daily routine to protect the bone tissue you have now.

Milk builds strong bones, and getting at least three servings a day helps to ensure they’ll be strong through every stage of your, or your loved ones’, lives.




American Academy of Pediatrics. Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents. 2014. 

Caroli A, Poli A, Ricotta D, Banfi G, Cocchi D. Meeting and exceeding dairy recommendations: effects of dairy consumption on nutrient intakes and risk of chronic disease. J Dairy Sci. 2011 Nov;94(11):5249-62.

Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S. Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy. Saunders Elsevier. St. Louis, MO. 2010.

Marieb EN, Hoehn K. Human Anatomy and Physiology, 7th edition. Pearson Benjamin Cummings. San Francisco, CA. 2007.