Professor Tim Spector pours cold water on diet ‘myth’ over serious health condition

By Staff 8 Min Read

Health experts have spoken about the ‘myth’ that milk is needed to protect against osteoporosis and have said that a good diet with lots of plants should be enough

Top professor Tim Spector and fellow health experts have debunked the idea that we need to drink lots of milk and tuck into dairy to keep our bones sturdy.

Speaking on the Zoe podcast, Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College, shed light on this misconception, dismissing it as a ‘myth’ linked to protecting against osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, that brittle bone condition that strikes one in three women and one in five men past the age of 50, hikes up the risk of fractures and can ding our independence as we shuffle into old age.

But the folks over at the Zoe podcast posed a vital question – does necking a vitamin D tablet washed down with plenty of milk really stack up to a balanced diet? Leading the debate, rheumatologist professor Cyrus Cooper said that a nutritious diet rich in plants gives the body the nutrients it needs. He said: “I think with regard to calcium, we have developed ways of absorbing calcium, which even at really quite low intakes of calcium, we can maintain adequacy. I used to say that, and I was worried about vegetarians and vegans. But looking at the data, you get plenty of calcium from vegetables, leafy veg, the ones that Zoe is trying to promote.

“And if you have a good, diverse plant diet, there’s no evidence you’re going to be calcium deficient. And absolutely no evidence from the trials that giving extra calcium in the form of these artificial tablets is going to help your fracture risk. If anything, one or two of the observational studies suggest that there might be problems associated with giving calcium supplementation to do with cardiovascular disease and the heart.”

Pro Spector stated: “We’ve been brought up on this myth that calcium was all important and we just assumed it was a fact. And it’s only really in the last 10 years with all these massive analyses and people start to look at diet differently, a more global, holistic way of looking at food that we start to see that actually, calcium doesn’t even make a list of contenders.

“So it doesn’t matter whether you actually drink milk or not. It’s about the quality of your diet. I think the number one message is try and get more plants now because, as you said, there are 100,000 different chemicals in food. So the more diversity we get, the more we are going to get a balance of these things That’s more important than saying, OK, I’m going to forget all that. I’m just going to take some vitamin D capsules and drink a pint of milk, so I think in a way, that’s where we’ve got it wrong. In the past, we’ve said, Well, there’s one quick fix here where actually there isn’t a quick fix. It’s this holistic idea.”

He highlighted the significant role diet plays in reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures, reports Gloucestershire Live. He said: “It’s the sort of things we talk about in this podcast all the time about having plenty of vegetables being protective, not having lots of junk food, not having lots of fizzy drinks. It’s highlighting that the same things that are good for many other diseases are also good for osteoporosis. It’s actually the combination of foods rather than these individual ingredients, which people use to sell supplements.”

Prof Cooper stressed the importance of exercise at any age for those concerned about osteoporosis, advising ‘do not be sedentary’. He advised: “Even walking half an hour a day for five days a week is going to do some good to your balance and bone density and risk of fracture. I always told my patients, Do something you enjoy because you’re more likely to do that for long periods of time.”

He also offered advice for those who dislike exercise or have limited ability, saying: “If you hate exercise or you can’t do it for very long. My example of skipping is actually quite a good one or some people who even have arthritic problems.”

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