High Protein Diets & Bone Health

In the early 1900s thoughts started brewing that a diet high in protein would lead to bone loss.  This notion has remained for many years, but is it true?

Osteoporosis or low bone mass, is a huge problem that affects approximately 44 million Americans.  Those with osteoporosis are usually told to limit protein, caffeine, phosphorus and sodium.  But is there any validity these recommendations?  Today we’re going to focus on the effect of protein.

I’ll try to simplify this is as much as possible!  The theory stems from acids and bases.  There are certain anions that are “acidic” such as: phosphate, sulfate, and chloride.  Then there are anions that are “alkaline” such as: sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.  Foods high in sulfates are: meat, fish, dairy and grains.  Foods high in potassium are fruits and vegetables.  One would think that if you eat a lot of high protein foods (acidic) then your body needs to balance it out with bases and will do this by pulling calcium (alkaline) from the bones.

However recent studies have shown this is not the case.  Also if you think of it in this way, sodium would be just as protective as potassium!  Which is not the case.  There are many factors that go on when we eat, we’re not consuming individual nutrients, there are many synergestic effects taking place.  Therefore, when you consume grains that are high in sulfer amino acids (similar to meats), they also contain alkalis that balance it out.

Recent studies have shown that when individuals consume more protein (~ 20% of total calories) there is no negative effect on bone health! In fact some studies have shown that high protein intake can actually increase calcium absorption.

Would I recommend a very high protein intake similar to one of a body builder – not necessarily.  But a moderate to moderately high protein intake should be fine.  I also find that my clients have an easier time maintaining and losing weight with a higher protein intake due to the satiety level.

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2 Responses

  1. This article is a good read! I have looked for research on this question and it appeared to me that the jury was out. There are many reasons I wouldn’t want to eat tons of protein (I get sick of it, it’s not a great running fuel, etc.) and of course reasons it’s hard to be deficient. Since even vegetarians often surpass the protein recommendation on a balanced diet, it’s good to see that I wouldn’t suffer much by going too far over or under on protein.

  2. Thanks for this informative bit. I am not able to have diary so am always worried about my bone health but this is interesting to know. I’ve been trying to get my calcium from leafy greens and vitamins, I hope I am at least heading in the right direction.

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