Drinking low-fat or skim milk could slow the progression of knee arthritis, according to a recent study published in Arthritis Care & Research, the journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR).

While cow milk certainly has its detractors, its role in promoting healthy bone structure has long been established. This latest study provides additional evidence in favor of the beverage, particularly for women at risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knee.

A chronic degenerative condition, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Seen most frequently in women over age 50, osteoarthritis causes sustained pain and swelling of the joints due to abnormal deterioration of cartilage and bone. In the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 27 million people suffer from osteoarthritis, and the knee is among the joints most commonly affected. Risk factors for osteoarthritis include advanced age, obesity, prior injury or repetitive use from some types of sports.

Dr. Bing Lu, together with a team of researchers at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, sought to investigate a possible link between dairy intake and the progression of the disease.

The study looked at a sample population of 888 men and 1,260 women (3,064 knees in total), all between the ages of 45 and 79. Each volunteer reported how often he or she consumed milk, yogurt and cheese, and the researchers measured joint space width (JSW) between the femur and the tibia in the knee. The participants returned for a follow-up every 12 months over a four-year period.

"Our findings indicate that women who frequently drink milk may reduce the progression of OA," said Dr. Bing Lu.

Interestingly, the study did not indicate similar benefits from eating cheese or yogurt.