Soy vs. Cow’s Milk and Bone Mineral Density Take Two

Yesterday, I wrote about a clinical trial comparing soy vs. cow’s milk’s impact on bone mineral density (BMD) in Chinese women (link). To sum it up, the cow’s milk fared better than soy, which fared better than nothing.

Today I found a prospective study from the Adventist Health Study-2 (2011) comparing soy vs. cow’s milk (1). They followed 337 post-menopausal, Caucasian women, who had not been previously diagnosed with osteoporosis, for two years. 61% were considered vegetarians because they ate meat less than once a month.

The authors sum up the results:

“Those drinking soy milk at least once a day or more (highest category) were 57% less likely to have osteoporosis than those who never used soy milk [.43 (.21–.89)]. Likewise, those eating dairy products at least once a day or more were 62% less likely to have osteoporosis than those consuming dairy less than twice a week [.38 (.17–.86)].”

There was not a separate soymilk group and cow’s milk group, both findings were comparing the entire group of women to each other, though the results for each milk were adjusted for intake of the other milk.

The researchers did not measure total calcium intake, but they seemed to assume that most of this soymilk was calcium-fortified. They also found no correlation between calcium or vitamin D supplement usage (amounts not measured) and better bone health.

Interestingly, cheese was the only dairy product that, when separated out, was correlated with better bone health (the other categories were “milk,” and “yogurt/ice-cream”). The authors speculated that it was due to the higher calcium and protein content of cheese.

In conclusion, it appears to be about equally beneficial for bone health for Caucasian, postmenopausal women to be drinking either soymilk or cow’s milk.


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1. Matthews VL, Knutsen SF, Beeson WL, Fraser GE. Soy milk and dairy consumption is independently associated with ultrasound attenuation of the heel bone among postmenopausal women: the Adventist Health Study-2. Nutr Res. 2011 Oct;31(10):766-75. | link

3 Responses to “Soy vs. Cow’s Milk and Bone Mineral Density Take Two”

  1. Kathleen Keene Says:

    Hmmm, so I should not go around saying cow’s milk is suspect in osteoporosis? Is it because Americans eat too much animal protein in general that they are more susceptible to it?

  2. Jack Norris RD Says:


    > so I should not go around saying cow’s milk is suspect in osteoporosis?

    Correct. And an astute observation, I might add.

    I just made a post that should answer your second question:

    Fracture Rates in China and Sweden

  3. Betty Says:

    I guess this wouldn’t apply to premenopausal females, or males, would it, then. Or non-caucasians. My understanding is that plenty of physical effort is also a major factor in bone health but I guess you know that.

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