Real men may not eat quiche, but they might want to drink milk.

The number of older men getting osteoporosis, making them susceptible to bone fractures, is increasing. But a large glass of fortified, low-fat milk may aid in warding off that brittle-bone disease.

“A large glass a day of fortified milk may provide a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to slow or stop the age-related bone loss in men,” says Robin Daly, a research fellow in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.

Walking Your Way to Better Bones

Less Bone Loss With Milk

Australian researchers took 167 men over the age of 50 and randomly assigned them to either drink a glass of milk fortified with 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 800 international units of vitamin D a day or continue on their usual diet.

The men’s bone mineral density -- an indicator of bone strength -- was checked every six months over a two-year period.

The findings were presented at the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research meeting.

Researchers found that 88 percent of the men in the milk group were compliant in drinking their fortified milk. The men had no weight gain.

At the end of the study, the rate of bone loss was about 1.6 percent less than the comparison group. There was no difference in bone density in the spine.

The milk drinkers also had higher levels of vitamin D and lower levels of parathyroid hormone, a hormone that breaks down bone.

“The rate of bone loss was less in the milk drinkers,” says Daly. “Men are living longer and more are being diagnosed with osteoporosis. Yet grown men don’t usually drink a lot of milk.”

Do Vitamin D and Calcium Prevent Bone Fractures?

Giving Milk a Punch

The milk used in the study contained much higher levels of calcium and vitamin D than milk on store shelves.

A glass of milk contains about 300 milligrams of calcium and close to 100 international units of vitamin D. Milk isn’t fortified in Australia, says Daly.

Calcium helps keep bones strong. And vitamin D helps the body better use calcium.

Supplementing milk and other food products with calcium and vitamin D not only would increase bone density in men but in the general population as well, he says. “People need to get more exercise and drink more milk.”

Though women, who are more prone to osteoporosis, have been advised for decades to drink milk and take calcium supplements, men have not received the same message, he says.

Elizabeth Shane, MD, Columbia University professor of clinical medicine, agrees.

“No one drinks enough milk,” she says.

New dietary guidelines recommend drinking three 8-ounce glasses of milk daily. In place of a glass of milk, other dairy options include 1 cup of yogurt or 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese. This would offer about 900 milligrams of calcium and about 300 international units of vitamin D.

In the past, medical research involved primarily male participants. However, osteoporosis research places more emphasis on women because of their higher risk for osteoporosis, Shane says.

“This is one of the few areas where women trumped men. Now researchers are looking at both men and women in terms of osteoporosis,” she says.

Bone-Breaking Disease

Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, increasing the risk of sudden and unexpected fractures. Women are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis.

Many times, osteoporosis is not discovered until weakened bones cause potentially debilitating fractures, usually in the back or hips.

Until about age 30, a person normally builds more bone than he or she loses. During the aging process, bone breakdown begins to outpace bone buildup, resulting in a gradual loss of bone mass. Once this loss of bone reaches a certain point, a person has osteoporosis.

Five Steps to Saving Your Bones

Exercise. Exercise makes bones and muscles stronger and helps prevent bone loss. It also helps you stay active and mobile. Weight-bearing exercises, done at least three to four times a week, are best for preventing osteoporosis. Walking, jogging, playing tennis, and dancing are all good weight-bearing exercises.

Eat foods high in calcium. Getting enough calcium throughout your life helps to build and keep strong bones. The U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults with a low to average risk of developing osteoporosis is 1,000 milligrams. For those at high risk of developing osteoporosis, such as postmenopausal women, the RDA increases to 1,500 milligrams. Excellent sources of calcium are milk and dairy products (low-fat versions are recommended), canned fish with bones like salmon and sardines, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, and broccoli, calcium-fortified orange juice, and breads made with calcium-fortified flour.

Calcium. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are good forms of calcium supplements. Be careful not to get more than 2,000 milligrams of calcium a day very often. That amount can increase your chance of developing kidney problems.

Vitamin D. Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium. Being in the sun for 20 minutes every day helps most people's bodies make enough vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from eggs, fatty fish like salmon, cereal, and milk fortified with vitamin D, as well as from supplements. People aged 51 to 70 should get 400 international units each day and those over age 70 should get 600 international units. More than 2,000 international units of vitamin D each day is not recommended because it may harm your kidney and even lower bone mass.

Alcohol. Too much alcohol can damage your bones and increase your risk of falling and breaking a bone.

Vitamin Essentials As We Get Older

By Linda Little, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: American Society of Bone & Mineral Research 27th Annual Meeting, Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 23-27, 2005. Robin Daly, School of Nutrition and Exercise, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. Elizabeth Shane, MD. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: “Osteoporosis.” Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health.