Long-term care facility residents who consumed more milk, cheese or yogurt than a control group had 33% fewer fractures over two years, a large-scale Australian study has found.

Among 60 participating Melbourne-area nursing homes, about 3,300 residents were given menus with higher dairy content than usual — increasing each resident’s intake to 3.5 servings per day. The remaining 3,894 residents continued receiving their usual menus with two dairy servings per day, reported Medscape Medical News. A subgroup was given blood and bone health tests at the study’s outset and at one year.

Two years later, residents in the high-dairy group had experienced not only fewer total fractures, but an 11% reduction in falls and 46% fewer hip fractures compared with residents in the control group. The high-dairy diet also was linked to relatively less bone loss and to an increase in insulin-like growth factor-1.

“Supplementation using dairy foods is likely to be an effective, safe, widely available, and low cost means of curtailing the public health burden of fractures,” said researcher Sandra Iuliano, Ph.D., of the University of Melbourne. Iuliano presented the results this week at the virtual American Society of Bone and Mineral Research 2020 annual meeting.

The results likely were not due to increased vitamin D, as study participants had adequate levels at the outset, Medscape reported. Increased calcium, protein or a combination of these nutrients may instead be responsible for the link between dairy and better bone health outcomes, but further research is required to confirm this, investigators said.

Calcium intake in the intervention group increased from 650 mg to 1,100 mg per day, and protein intake increased from 59 mg to 72 mg per day. But the study’s unusually high levels of dairy consumption probably are not necessary for making bone health improvements in everyday life, a nutritionist-epidemiologist told the news outlet.

This is the first randomized trial to show a benefit of dairy food intake on fracture risk, one expert noted.

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