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Drinking Milk for Osteoarthritis

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Always considered a calcium-rich food, milk is now back in the reckoning. Experts have long known that consuming milk and other dairy foods is good for the bones, but its effects on joints haven’t been well studied.

According to a study published online in April 2014 in Arthritis Care & Research, women with knee osteoarthritis (OA) who drank milk regularly had less progression of their OA – as measured by declines in joint space width. Thus it was found that there was slower knee osteoarthritis progression in women – but not men – who drink a lot of milk.

For this study, researchers looked at more than 2,000 people with knee osteoarthritis using data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, launched in 2002 by the National Institutes of Health. The people surveyed as part of that initiative were asked to recall, among other diet details, how often they drank milk in the past year, and how much they drank. The researchers analyzed this information along with X-rays taken over the next two years that showed how much the participants’ joint space width – one measure used to chart OA progression – decreased over time.

Milk consumption was categorized in four groups: none, three or fewer glasses per week, four to six glasses per week, and seven or more glasses per week. At the end of two years, the average decrease in joint space width was 0.38 millimeters, 0.29 millimeters, 0.29 millimeters, and 0.26 millimeters, in the different milk-consumption groups respectively – a difference of 0.12 millimeters between the people who drank the least and the most milk. (The average decrease in joint space a person with knee OA experiences in a year is estimated to be between 0.1 and 0.15 millimeters.) Only in women was milk consumption associated with a smaller decrease in joint space.

“This is the first large cohort study to show this association,” says Bing Lu, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the study’s lead author. Though the reason is not clear, it’s also possible that one of the nutrients in milk, or a combination of nutrients, has an effect on OA. “Knee OA progression has been thought to involve multiple mechanisms besides cartilage loss, including changes in bone composition and shape, … which might be subject to the influences of macro- and micronutrients in the diet,” the authors write. But no one knows which nutrients, if any, help. The authors point to calcium as one possibility. “From our analysis, calcium intake was also associated with reduced OA progression,” says Dr. Lu.

There is a possibility that the mix of nutrients in milk could be the secret. “A combination of things – protein, vitamin D, calcium all together – may have some effect that we just don’t know about,” says Dr. Loeser an Arthritis Foundation-funded researcher and expert in the biological processes that occur in a joint with arthritis.

Milk didn’t seem to help OA in men, only women. According to the study authors, if calcium is the key, “women may be more sensitive for the effect of calcium intake through milk than men. However, the sex differences in the relationship of milk consumption with OA progression are not completely understood.”

Finally, while the study linked milk drinking with less narrowing of the joint space, that doesn’t necessarily translate into less pain or better function, says Dr. Loeser. Other researchers like him have also suggested that MRI findings should also be considered before this can be declared as conclusive evidence.

Interestingly, high cheese consumption appeared to make osteoarthritis worse, while yogurt consumption was not associated with any changes to the joint space width. The researchers speculate that the high fat content of cheese might be responsible.

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This web site is run by an Arthritis Specialist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On this site you will find news about the latest in arthritis, information about research results in the field, tips and information and diet and exercise, and much more.

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This web site is run by an Arthritis Specialist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. On this site you will find news about the latest in arthritis, information about research results in the field, tips and information and diet and exercise, and much more.

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