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Back to Bone Health and Osteoporosis

Role of Protein in Bone Health

In a review paper by renowned bone health expert Robert P. Heaney and protein metabolism expert Donald K. Layman, the evidence related to protein and bone health was examined:1

  • Loss of bone mass (osteopenia) and loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) that occur with age are closely related;
  • Factors that affect muscle anabolism, including protein intake, also affect bone mass;
  • Changes in bone mass, muscle mass, and strength track together over the life span;
  • Bone health is a multifactorial musculoskeletal issue;
  • Calcium and protein intake interact constructively to affect bone health;
  • Intakes of both calcium and protein must be adequate to fully realize the benefit of each nutrient on bone;
  • Optimal protein intake for bone health is likely higher than current recommended intakes, particularly in the elderly;
  • Concerns about dietary protein increasing urinary calcium appear to be offset by increases in absorption;
  • Concern about the impact of protein on acid production appear to be minor;
  • More concern should be focused on increasing fruit and vegetable intake rather than reducing protein sources;
  • Meat as a protein source is associated with higher serum levels of IGF-1, which in turn is associated with increased bone mineralization and fewer fractures;
  • Soy foods have been linked with lower levels of IGF-1;
  • The issue for public health professionals is whether recommended protein intakes should be increased, given the prevalence of osteoporosis and sarcopenia.

Another review paper summarized the evidence related to protein and bone health:2

  • In addition to calcium in the presence of an adequate vitamin D supply, protein represents a key nutrient for bone health and thereby aids in the prevention of osteoporosis;
  • Experimentally selective deficiency in dietary protein causes a marked deterioration in bone mass, micro-architecture and strength—the hallmarks of osteoporosis;
  • Large prospective epidemiological studies indicate that a relatively high protein intake is associated with increased bone mineral mass and reduced incidence of osteoporotic fractures;
  • A low protein intake is often observed in patients with hip fractures;
  • Intervention studies demonstrate that following orthopedic management, protein supplementation attenuates post-fracture bone loss, increases muscle strength, and reduces medical complications and hospital stays;
  • There is no consistent evidence for the superiority of vegetable over animal protein on calcium metabolism, bone loss prevention and the reduced risk of fragility fractures.


  1. Heaney RP, Layman DK. Amount and type of protein influences bone health. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87(suppl):1567S-1570S.
  2. Bonjour JP. Dietary protein: an essential nutrient for bone health. J Am Coll Nutr 2005;24(6):526S-536S.

Keywords: health studies , bone health

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