Move Over Atkins Diet, a High-Protein Diet
May Cause Osteoporosis

By Dr. John Clark, Parkview Orthopedics at Parkview Adventist Medical Center

Dr. John ClarkAlthough many conclusive studies exist, the link between osteoporosis and protein consumption is not widely known by the general population. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends that those American adults under 51 years of age get 1000 mg and those over 51 get 1200mg of calcium per day from their diets. But many researchers believe that calcium intake has less to do with causing osteoporosis as once thought. The World Health Organization has found that in many developing countries, where calcium intake is very low, the rates of hip fractures due to osteoporosis are much lower than countries with high calcium diets such as the United States.

Eskimos, have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world, despite 2000-2500 mg of dietary calcium per day and high levels of physical activity. The Bantus women of Somalia, a largely desert country, only consume 350 mg of calcium per day and have very low incidence of osteoporosis. Why the discrepancy? The key to knowing how much calcium is needed is dependent on the amount of calcium being absorbed by our bodies. Some suggest the average person can absorb only 25-30% of calcium consumed and the remaining calcium is secreted in the urine.

There are many factors that may be effecting osteoporosis such as geography, exercise, environment and ethnicity. One of the more studied notions is the relationship between a high protein diet and increased calcium secretion. The Bantus only eat 10% of their diet as protein while the Eskimos consume between 250 gm and 400 gm of protein a day, largely from animal sources. There have been a number of studies on this relationship and on average they show that for every gram of protein - particularly animal protein - consumed, one mg of dietary calcium is lost. Therefore some believe that milk and other dairy products marketed for their bone building qualities, may in some cases contribute to bone loss rather than prevent it.

All kinds of protein are made up of amino acids. The protein in dairy and other animal products, contain higher levels of an amino acid called Methionine than plant based sources. This amino acid is very high in sulfur, which when consumed at high levels can cause the blood to become acidic. In order to neutralize the acid, the body must take calcium from bones.

Therefore, to decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis, it may be wise to lower your total protein intake to below 60 grams. If you consume animal protein, try to increase the percentage of plant-based protein sources in your diet. Secondly, maintain the Recommend Daily Allowance of 800-1200 mg of calcium depending on your age and health status. Also try to get out in the sunlight for a few minutes a day during the summer to capture a little vitamin D, which can increase calcium absorption. And lastly, develop a regular exercise program consistent with your age and health status. This is something your doctor can help you with. Post-menopausal women lose calcium at a rate of about 3% per year, but a sound protein controlled diet and regular exercise can reduce this loss to almost nothing.

John Clark, MD is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in traditional orthopedics and lifestyHe is with Parkview Orthopedics, a hospital based practice at Parkview.


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