Most of us (especially women) have a tendency to lose bone mass density (BMD) as we age. And the results can be disastrous for the elderly who often find their mobility compromised due to fractures of weakened bones.
One way to help keep bones healthy, of course, is to avoid factors that can undermine bone mass density (BMD) long before we reach our later years. But contrary to a long-held, popular misconception, protein is NOT one of those undermining factors.
The idea that protein intake reduces bone mass density (BMD) probably stems mostly from the fact that increased protein prompts the body to discharge calcium into the urine. Based on this, many have jumped to the conclusion that protein must have a negative effect on bone mass density (BMD).
The confusion over the protein/BMD question is reflected in this question that a member named Iris emailed: ‘Do you have any information on studies or recommendations that connect high-protein diets and bone loss?’
Well, groundbreaking research conducted by Dr. Weston Price may hold the answer to this query. A 19th Century pioneer of nutrition, Dr. Price found that groups that consumed high protein diets (such as Alaskan Eskimos) had little tooth decay and were mostly free of degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis. But when Dr. Price examined the remains of Native American tribes that were largely vegetarian, he discovered skeletons with a high incidence of osteoporosis.
This relationship of high protein intake and strong bones has been reinforced by many studies, and most recently by research from Creighton University School of Medicine (CU) published earlier this year.
The CU team followed dietary protein and calcium intake and the rate of bone loss in almost 500 postmenopausal women over a period of three years. Results showed that subjects with the highest protein intake had a significantly higher bone mass density (BMD) compared with women who had the lowest protein intake. This positive association was especially strong among the women who also had a dietary calcium intake of more than 408 mg per day.
The calcium thief
So protein is not the culprit that many have believed it to be. But there is another factor that has been associated with calcium loss and bone fractures: synthetic drug use.
In a study reported earlier this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine, elderly women who took antidepressants and other drugs were 70 percent more likely to break a hip than those who didn’t take such drugs. Exactly why this was so was not clear, but the association was strong among a group of more than 8,000 women, even after variables were accounted for, such as unsteadiness caused by medications.
And in a Clinical Geriatric Medicine study referenced on the Atkins web site, many subjects who consumed a ‘normal’ amount of calcium (listed in the study as 800 mg per day) had a negative calcium balance due to an intake of several common drugs; most notably, certain antacids.
Beyond the moustache message
With calcium levels being an important issue here, we can’t ignore the fact that calcium intake alone is meagre way to address bone mass density (BMD) problems (contrary to the message sent by the milk ‘moustache’ ads).
In recent e-Alerts I’ve told you about some of the important benefits of getting an adequate amount of magnesium from dietary sources as well as supplements. And a good magnesium intake is even more important for those who have a high intake of dietary or supplementary calcium.
US HSI Panellist Dr Allan Spreen, says: ‘Calcium without magnesium doesn’t occur in a natural human diet, so it shouldn’t be introduced to the body that way. Calcium alone has been found in several experiments to be improperly laid down in the body, even affecting arterial walls before setting up in bones.’
And in a recent e-mail from Dr. Spreen, he made it clear that bone health depends on a combination of important nutrients:
‘If osteoporosis is the problem, there’s WAY more to the issue than calcium and magnesium, in ANY ratio. Most HSI members have long since left behind the commercial baloney about calcium for osteoporosis, but it’s even more complicated than most believe, and requires full-spectrum nutrients. The ‘biggies’ in the list include calcium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin D (in pretty high amounts, too), boron, silica, other micro-minerals, progesterone (natural, human form… NOT Provera), usually additional digestive enzymes (along with plant-based hydrochloric acid), all topped off with reasonable exercise; way less than beating yourself to death, but more than sitting home knitting or channel-surfing… brisk walking is wonderfully adequate.
‘Nature works on the team principal, which is why covering up symptoms with single ‘magic bullet’ drugs has led us down a primrose path of disease.’